I need both information about the material as well as about the time it requires to learn to write.

What could be a comprehensive reading list of exemplary works for a solid base? And a good reading list of theory?

How much should a prospective students allocate for such purpose?

Reading As much as possible might be an answer to become as good as possible. However, the question here is how to become a decent writer, not an exceptional one.

That starting at a high-school level and with a desire to write both fiction and non-fiction (with emphasis on non-fiction).

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    I'm sorry; this is simply too broad. There's no one way to become a proficient writer. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Oct 2 '16 at 12:51
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    @LaurenIpsum: OK, there is more than one way, that does not imply someone could sketch one possible program. – Pierre B Oct 2 '16 at 13:20
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    I presume you want to be "decent" not "descent" :-) – Rolazaro Azeveires Oct 2 '16 at 15:08
  • @RolazaroAzeveires: yep. – Pierre B Oct 2 '16 at 15:09
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    Writing is a very basic skill. Almost everyone who has had more that a few years of school can write to some level of proficiency. Writing is not the issue. The issues are explaining and storytelling. By analogy, writing an Excel function is computer programming. So is coding an operating system or an autopilot. Both require writing code, but they require radically different levels of skill to achieve radically different objectives. What is it that you need to write and for what purpose? Unless you can specify this, your question is hopelessly broad. – user16226 Oct 2 '16 at 23:34

What you are searching for is a remedial writing course for college. That is, a catch-up course to bring high-school students to an acceptable academic level. It's also called "developmental writing."

In many high-schools, students write loads of essays, but these are short essays. Student will become pretty lost when it comes down to develop an idea across 5-10 pages.

Gather enough material for 3-months of full-time reading. Choose stuff that interests you, not stuff that random people on the internet recommended. A good source of polished writing is the New Yorker. But if this is going to make you read more, buy some books (on paper) too. Reading on a screen might be tiresome sometimes. Authors like Alasdair Macintyre, Bertrand Russell, Norman Mailer, Carl Sagan, Feynman, Steven Pinker, for example, wrote prolifically but took care to produce high-quality texts - well-organized, well-written and highly educational.

For the theoretical part you could try:

  • The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker

  • On Writing, Stephen King

  • Merriam-Webster's Guide to Punctuation and Style

  • Some style guide from any mainstream newspaper or from the MLA

Also, find some form of obtaining feedback about your texts. Write 5 pages or more and hire a private tutor (online or not). Try to get some feedback on maybe 100 of your essays. That will cost a little, but you are learning a skill that will be useful for the rest of your life.

Feedback is essential. Most people are astonished to discover that many structures they deemed standard are actually unintelligible or simply wrong.

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Start writing and keep writing. There will be many pitfalls along the way and grammatical nuances to overcome but if you so desire, you will achieve it.

As for reading material I recommend intermediate level books usually targeted for young kids. Why?

In most cases, learning the fundamentals of how something works can go a long way. Riding a bicycle may be simple now but as kids we had to learn it at some point.

Professional BMX freestylers started out the same way but elevated their skills and dexterity by practicing further than what you and I are accustomed to.

Learn the different meanings of what one word may posess. For instance, 'hold' has many different usages.

I held your arms I held up my bargain now its your turn! Hold on, Im on the phone. The prisoner is in a holding cell. Please put that call on hold. I will hold you to your promise. Make sure you have a firm hold on that rope. Relax and try to hold in your anger. Men! Do not surrender, hold down the fort!

As you can see, this one little word can branch out into different meanings just by context and prepositional phrases alone.

Speaking of meanings make sure that you try to use the correct word for a given idea, situation, sentence, etc.

For example:

I got a signal from outer space.


I received a signal from outer space. (yes)

The car was going at 90 mph on a rainy day. Suddenly the car started turning left and right and crashed a tree.


The driver was going 90 mph on a wet slippery road when suddenly he lost control of the vehicle, swerving left and right and finally crashing head-on with a tree.

Keep ideas simple:

I'm fatigued. It has truthfully been almost an hour since I have had anything to consume.


I'm tired. Its been an hour since I've eaten.

Keep medical terms with medical context just like keep legal terms with legal documents. In other words, if you are writing an article about Biology you wouldnt use terms you otherwise would use in everyday speech.


Some of these viruses stick to healthy cells.


Some of these viruses attach to healthy cells.

These veins send blood througout the body.


These veins pump blood throughout the body.

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Leaning how to write is quite simple and straighforward:

All you need to do do is write.

In this, writing isn't any different from any other skill. How do you learn to swim, speak a language, or programming? By doing it. And the good thing is that you already have everything you need to learn to write: you can write (i.e. draw letter-shapes), you have read stories (so you know how they work). Now all you need to do is practice. And practice, in writing, is writing.

As for how long it will take, there are different opinions on the web. The answer most commonly believed correct is

10,000 hours

or about twenty years.

So you better sit down and start writing now, instead of wasting your time on a reading list.

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