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Where can an absolute newcomer to the discipline of writing begin to learn about the various types and genres of writing so as to become able to identify them simply by reading them?

I have taken composition classes at my university in an attempt to learn about writing in general and develop this ability, but became disappointed when, after completing the classes, I still did not possess the ability.

I of course, did glean a little general knowledge about academic writing, but found that each academic discipline has its own writing styles and conventions which take time to master, but not much more guidance beyond that as to how to become proficient in those writing styles.

I would therefore like to deepen my knowledge of academic writing. But I would also like to explore other types of writing such as both fiction and nonfiction story writing, journalistic writing, business writing, and so on, as well.

I'm not necessarily seeking to become a professional in all of those types of writing. I will probably choose one type of writing, such as ad writing, to master and pursue professionally. But nevertheless, I want to learn about all types of writing in order to gain a broad general perspective of writing as a craft.

So my question is, are there any resources (for example, books, courses, etc.) that might provide such a broad introduction to the craft of writing, that might for example, provide comparisons among various types of writing such as academic writing and technical trade journal writing?

I already read this post (@ What are some online guides for starting writers?), but the advice provided in that post seems to be more helpful to a person who has a specific type of writing in mind that he or she would like to pursue, and who is simply seeking resources that might help him or her get started writing in that specific area. I appreciate any responses in this regard.

  • Follow the debate on writers.stackexchange.com/questions/17717/… about learning by writing or writing books. otherwise some introductory writing books like writing for dummies talk about different genres but not in the scope and breath you are seeking – Reed Jun 30 '15 at 2:35
  • You mention composition classes and genre, which suggests creative writing/fiction, and you also mention academic writing. And there are other types of writing. They have different paths and approaches. I think this is probably too broad as asked; can you edit to narrow it down? (You're allowed to ask more than one question. :-) ) – Monica Cellio Jul 1 '15 at 1:34
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To learn how to start writing, the best advice I've ever read or heard is just to start writing, followed closely by take in as much content as you put out. Here's why:

  1. The best way to learn is to do it. So go do it. Practice. Try things. Experiment. You will do poorly and you will grow, and if it hurts all the better because that means you're going to learn more.
  2. The next best thing you can do is read great content. Read the kind of stuff you want to write. Read the kind of material that you can emulate, then emulate it. Find the stories that connect with you and study them, then go back to the pen and paper and use that inspiration to come up with your own story. Then go write it.
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So your experience so far has been that you have learned some theory but still find yourself unable to do it. And the solution you see is more of what you didn't find helpfull, that is, more theory?

How do you learn anything? Do you learn walking by being told how to walk? Do you learn riding a bike by reading books about how to ride bikes? Do you learn maths by memorizing rules and formulas? No! You learn walking, biking and calculating by walking, biking and calculating. You start easy, with only one step into the arms of your mother, with just rolling without pedaling, with one plus one, but whatever you want to learn, the first thing you do after having observed the behaviour you want to emulate is to emulate that behaviour.

You have read books. You know what books are. So write a book. Or an article, poem, essay, reportage, and so on. Then get feedback on what you wrote (that is, fall from your bike). Learn from that feedback and try to do better next time.

Supplement that learning with theory, if the feedback alone is not enough to help you understand what went wrong. But keep the theory limited to the current question and don't drift off into theoryzing.

"Don't talk about it, do it." ~ Henry Rollins

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As long as you're not a computer, if you learned to speak, it was through imitation. Chances are, you learned to do a great many things through imitation. As Jamezrp said, find what you want to emulate, and do it.

Don't worry too hard about what it is you're learning, or else you'll waste your mind on jargon and rhetoric, and never really get around to the art. Or, if you find the rhetoric and the jargon more fun, feel free to read the body of current criticism and begin writing that.

And (I promise I'll shut up in a minute), try not to be too results-oriented. If you immediately demand of yourself a polished piece of prose, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Robert Olen Butler has a useful video series on Youtube meant, in part, to illustrate how tedious writing can be. It's a seventeen-part series, each about 2 hour long. The first is linked for your amusement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIcnmiT0Mc8

I could go on and probably write my own rant-style book on how to write, but I think I've said my mind on the matter. Happy writing!

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  1. Find what you like to read. If you're not inspired by anything then stick to plumbing.
  2. Write something. Get all excited.
  3. Read a book of writing dos and donts. Revisit 2
  4. Go to a live writers group. Even if you start by just listening you'll soon pick up lots of what does and doesn't work.
  5. Keep writing.
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Personally, I would suggest to start reading. That's what I found actually to be the best way to learn about different styles of writing, is to read samples of a particular writing style and see how they compare to other forms of writing. Like if you want to take up fantasy, head down to your local library and pick up a fantasy novel. Choosing the super hyped ones might serve your purpose the best because there is a reason they are as hyped as they are. But seriously though, when I was taking my first writing class the first thing we did for each genre was read a pick of that genre. That's how I got introduced to the Inheritance Cycle, because we read Eragon as our high fantasy pick and analyzed it to see what elements it used to make itself a high fantasy book.

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