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Many writers, even experienced ones, admit that one of the most frightening objects in their world is a blank piece of paper. Susan Horton feels that too many teachers, students, and writers themselves make writing harder than it needs to be. So much emphasis is placed on form and grammar-the "rules of the game," so to speak-that the essence of the writing process, the sheer joy of saying something new, is lost. Thinking Through Writing is, in Horton's words, "a 'Back-to-Basics' book"-but one with a twist. "I'm talking about the real basics," she says. "Not grammar, but basics like what writing is and is for, how you get an idea, and how and why each idea demands its own kind of organization, and how ideas turn into essays, and, even more basic, about how your mind forms ideas in the first place. You can use this book with or without a teacher in front of you. It is put together not to tell you what to do or how to write as much as it is designed to set things up so you can discover for yourself how writing works (yours and everybody else's), and, in the process, how your mind works as well. It's a kind of 'watch yourself think' book. There aren't many answers in it, but there are lots of questions: lots of things to try to explore and discover and play with. Even more than that, this is a book that tries to teach you not just how to answer questions, but how to find questions to ask."As a writer and teacher of writing for more than a decade, Horton knows firsthand the anxieties, frustrations, challenges, and rewards that are an integral part of that exciting craft. She also has extraordinary insight into the writing process itself, and it is that insight that she attempts to communicate in Thinking Through Writing.Sharp declines in standardized composition test scores and classroom performance during the past decade have created a "literacy panic" among educators and parents alike. As a result, composition is gaining a new prominence as an academic discipline. Horton's approach to the subject, emphasizing understanding oneself and one's craft rather than fear of error, is distinctive, original, and most of all, effective. Anyone who wants to learn how to write, how to think, and how thinking and writing are related will want to read this book.
Susan R. Horton is associate professor of English at the University of Massachusetts. She is the author of Interpreting Interpreting (also published by Johns Hopkins).