Part 17 of an intermittent series where I read or re-read the writing books on my shelf to see if they’re worth keeping. See previous part here
Returning from the diversion I took last week I’m back on Mount Olympus (see here for an explanation) and reading books that concentrate on the negative side of writing. I was going to write ‘less glamorous’ but that’s not strictly true is it? People love a bit of ‘pain and suffering of the artist’ (and that’s an issue – but not one I’ll speak of right now.)
This last couple of weeks I’ve read Word Work by Bruce Holland Rogers and The Writer’s Book of Doubt by Aidan Doyle. Both books of collected essays on philosophy of writing, pitfalls and stumbling blocks.
I’m still not entirely sure what that picture is all about – it looks like Mr Creosote in a purple tux and white trousers about to enter the scene. Anyway, bad covers aside (and regular readers of this blog will know that writing books generally have bad covers) this is an often useful book. Rogers covers the Writer’s life and pretty much every insecurity you’ll experience as a writer and tells you how he copes – it’s not prescriptive but descriptive and some of his solutions will gel with you, others won’t. I thought some of this book was wonderful – the chapter on toxic golf was a concept that chimed (doing something you enjoy but has inbuilt a non-joyful component can poison your joy.) The essays are divided into sections – Getting Started, Writing as if it Mattered, Matters of State (in which, for example, he talks about depression and negative thinking), Other People, Success and Letting Go. I mentioned last review that I fell between this book and the next in generation and didn’t think either spoke 100% to me. The reason this didn’t speak to me sometimes is that it errs into New Age thinking and some of the ways Rogers copes are a bit hokey. However there’s enough of interest, and use, here for me to want to keep it for reference.
I actually like the cover for this one. Doyle’s book is a collection of essays split into sections on the negative aspects of the writer’s life. So far so samey to Word Work. But interspersed with Doyle’s own essays are essays from other writers like, for example Aliette de Bodard (who I had the pleasure of interviewing once), Jeannette Ng, Kameron Hurley, Martha Wells and others. As I said above I fall between the two books generationally but I feel closer to this book. There are sections on Doubt, Grief and Hope, Failure, Friends and Nemeses, Direction, Making Words and The Long Road. There’s a map of Submissionland, there’s the Writer’s Hierarchy of Doubt, there’s a cartoon from Tom Gauld. It’s an excellent book and one I can see myself revisiting. Even though it’s about Doubt (very much with a capital D) it’s actually quite joyful and hopeful and some of the essays have great titles (my favourite being ‘If Your Cat Doesn’t Write 1000 Words a Day, You’re Not a Real Writer’). So not only does this one stay I feel confident that if you are a writer you need this book. There is a whole section on Solidarity I didn’t mention – which has essays on representation and #OwnVoices too.
I’ll be moving back to reading Nuts & Bolts books again but now Genre and Medium specific – starting with How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card (and yes I know he’s problematic)
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