Taking Self-Help Books Seriously: The Informal Aesthetic Education of Writers [chapter]

Alexandria Peary
2020 New Directions in Book History  
AbstractAesthetic education with a writing focus has occurred in the United States through two vehicles: textbooks in classroom-based instruction or self-help books in extracurricular instruction. Writing self-help books, or texts which address a readership interested in learning about writing independent of a teacher or university, played a significant role in guiding countless individuals during the twentieth century and continue to do so today (For the purposes of this article, "self-help"
more » ... fers exclusively to self-help literature offering advice about the act of writing and not to any of the myriad of other self-help topics [dieting, relationships, and so forth]). The evolution of these self-help books paralleled the development of college and university writing courses that arose early in the twentieth century: indeed, a powerful informal aesthetic education has been occurring through self-help books. In this chapter, I perform a textual analysis of five twentieth-century self-help books, all attracting substantial readership: Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer (1934); Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write (1938); Peter Elbow's Writing Without Teachers (1973); Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones (1986); and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird (1995). An examination of these popular twentieth-century self-help books reveals four areas of overlapping content. Collectively, self-help books on writing address the role of the unconscious in composing, issues of control, the holistic nature of composing, and failures in traditional teaching, and they all formulate a broader argument about the universal ability of humans to be creative.
doi:10.1007/978-3-030-53614-5_9 fatcat:m546bdxf4zdkxkulhmcfrsjkoq