While perusing the bookshelves in the historic library of Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach recently, I stumbled across a book that caught my eye: How to Become an Author, by well-known early-twentieth-century British author Arnold Bennett, who was famous for novels like Anna of the Five Towns (published 1902) and Imperial Palace (published 1930). I was most curious to learn what tips Bennett had to offer about the writer’s life in his 1903 “how-to” publication, and if those tips on writing still resonate today. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, while the publishing and commercial contexts in which Bennett wrote his book have changed dramatically since the volume was released more than a century ago, the text offers some timeless tidbits of wisdom.
A section of the book titled “An Art of Words” especially resonated with me. “Literature is the art of using words,” Bennett wrote. “This is not a platitude, but a truth of the first importance, a truth so profound that many writers never get down to it, and so subtle that many other writers who think they see it never in fact really comprehend it. The business of the author is with words.” I find this point meaningful in the realm of non-fiction writing, especially so in history, which is my own discipline of focus. It is all too easy to lose sight of the importance of narrative finesse in crafting an effective analysis of the events and ideas of past generations. Even expository writing requires attention to the experience of reading itself, and assuring that engaging with scholarly ideas is a manageable and even a pleasurable experience. “If literary aspirants genuinely felt that literature was the art of using words, bad, slipshod writing—writing that stultifies the thought and emotion which it is designed to render effective—would soon be a thing of the past. For they would begin at the beginning, as apprentices to all other arts are compelled to do.”
Bennett’s comments on literary style also resonate today. “Style…is not a certain splendid something in which the writer adds to his meaning. It is in the meaning; it is that part of the meaning which specially reflects his individuality and his mood.” Thank you, Arnold Bennett, for your expert insights on the issue of literary style, which resonate as profoundly in 2019 as they did in 1903.
 Arnold Bennett, How to Become an Author: A Practical Guide (London: C. Arthur Pearson, 1903).
 Ibid., 35.
 Ibid., 37.
 Ibid., 55.
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