Robert Pinsky has served as poet laureate of the United States and is an essayist, translator and teacher, as well as a rhymester. As the author of 19 books, he knows a thing or two about the life of a scribe. When he was asked what the single most important thing he ever learned about writing was, here’s what he said:
“William Butler Yeats told me that there is no singing school other than studying monumental examples of magnificent singing. I perceived that my teacher Yeats meant that I had to decide for myself what those magnificent examples were. He also meant, I thought, that it was not just enough to read them. I had to study them. The way a young filmmaker studies films. Or a guitar player listens to great guitar playing.
“So I began memorizing and typing out and thinking about things I thought were great. From Homer to Ginsberg and back again.
“I still feel nourished as a writer if I read a few pages of Ulysses or discover a Dickinson poem I had overlooked.”
What wonderful advice! My playwrighting coach would sometimes say that it was a great idea to copy passages of plays or stories that we loved in order to begin to really feel the rhythm of their language. He also said that we should read at least one poem every day as another way of fine-tuning our ear for language.
Why not try memorizing or typing out or better yet, writing by hand, some passages from a story that you’re especially fond of? Just the act of doing this will make you feel closer to the author and deepen your appreciation for creative mastery. And you never know what you might discover! Write on.