This post is a bit of a cheat, since I used this review over at The Book Book several days ago, but I thought this book was worth talking about here too.
One of the things that make this book different from most is the tone. Most books on writing present methods and ideas as alternatives that may work for some writers and not for others.
The book is divided into three parts. The first has his lectures, and they read like lectures. He’s very clear that he’s talking about writing literary fiction, or creating art and he makes a distinction between art and commercial or genre fiction. Again, if this is going to offend you, you very likely won't care for this book, but you’d do well to smooth your feathers and see what he has to say, if you’re interested in some great ideas for elevating your fiction to the level of the best it can be.
He talks about “the zone”. All writers know this place and we do just about anything to find it as often as possible. He offers some valuable insights about “the zone” and accessing it. He talks a lot about writing from the unconscious, versus writing from the head. Unconscious = good; writing from the head = bad. He has an entire section on yearning and goes as far as to say that by far, the most common writing blunder that students and aspiring writers make is that they don’t make their characters yearn for something. The lecture called “Cinema of the Mind” is about the best I’ve ever read about showing and not telling, but it goes much deeper. By showing, he’s talking about concrete sensual details versus abstract, general description. Later on in the book, there is an actual exercise that he does with four students where he has them walk through a scene and describe what their characters are experiencing and it’s powerful. The students actually don’t do all that well – so useful in reading through this – because it’s very difficult to do, but by allowing us to be a fly on the wall, so to speak, the book really reinforces what sensual description is all about.
The section on
“Your experience of this name should be aesthetic, not analytical. A kind of harmonic resonance is set up within you. That is the primary and appropriate response to a work of art. You don’t listen to a Beethoven symphony or look at a Monet painting or what Suzanne Farrell dance and walk away with your head full of ideas, having, say, sat in your chair and had the keen intellectual enjoyment of watching the way the themes of the first movement were echoed in the second and then turned into that crescendo in the fourth. That’s a separate kind of pleasure with certain value, but it is not the aesthetic response.
It seems to me that a lot of literature classes go wrong because the teachers, unintentionally but often intentionally, give the impression that writers are rather like idiots savants: they really want to say abstract, theoretical, philosophical things, but somehow they can’t quite make themselves do it. So they create these objects whose ultimate meaning and relevance and value come into being only after they have been subjected to the analysis of thoughtful literary critics, who translate that work into theoretical, philosophical, ideational terms.”
The third part of the book analyzes three actual short stories done by
I loved that this book touched on subjects that I just haven’t seen addressed quite in this way. There are some great techniques I’m anxious to try myself and I suspect this is one of the many books on writing that I will dog ear with repeated readings.The biggest challenge I have with my current work in progress is that I've come to a point where I need to make a decision that impacts how I'll continue and how the story will be structured and it doesn't make any sense for me to write any more until I've done this. I feel very strongly that I need to access my unconscious mind in order to discover the rest of this story. It all makes sense on paper, but making that time and making that space to be open to inspiration is very difficult for me.
How do you do you find the space and the opportunity to open up your mind and solve your writing problems?