Book Review: Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do; Edited by Mere
by Renee Kimball
Meredith Maran decided to write a book about writing to show her “gratitude to writers everywhere.” To do that, however, she needed information from at least twenty best-selling authors. Their responses would form basis for the book and a portion of the final profits would be donated to the 826 National literacy outreach centers promoting reading and writing in underprivileged areas. She hoped this extra incentive would entice the “twenty” to respond.
While Maran’s greatest worry was whether the popular selling authors would even acknowledge or ignore her plea, she found her worries groundless—every author she contacted fully participated. The responses were beyond Maran’s wildest expectations.
Along with their replies, the authors also included a bit of personal information and a plethora of sage advice for new writers. The result of Maran’s inquiries became, Why We Write 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do.
While you will need to read the book to enjoy of the wealth of information, below a few of the authors’ replies are highlighted.
“It’s worth the work to find the precise word that will create a feeling of describe a situation. When you feel the story is beginning to pick up rhythm—then you know the book is going somewhere, and you just have to find it, and bring it, word by word into this world . . . (p.11-12).
“When the sentences and the story are flowing, writing is better than any drug. It doesn’t just make you feel good about yourself. It makes you feel good about everything.” (p. 16).
“It can go the other way too. . . But actually, sitting there and conceiving story ideas and plotting—it’s the coolest profession in the world. I’m paid to daydream.” (p. 16).
“Whether you’re writing a novel or a cover letter. . . shorter is always better.” (p. 23).
“The upside of the current state of publishing: it’s a lot easier to self-publish than it ever was. Publish on the Internet, or on demand, or self-publish in print—but whatever you do, if you want to share your story, publish it” (p. 23).
“Writing for your readers” is a euphemism for “writing what you think people will buy.” Don’t fall for it! Write for the person you know best: yourself.” (p. 23).
“My best time as a writer is any day, or any moment, when the work’s going well and I’m completely absorbed in the task at hand. The hardest time is when it’s not, and I’m not. The latter tend to outnumber the former. But I’m a persistent little cuss. And I soldier on.” (p. 52).
“Most days when I sit down at my computer, I’m scared half out of my mind. I’m always convinced that my last book was my last book, that my career is at an end, that I’ll never be able to pull off another novel, that my success was a fleeting illusion, and my hopes for the future are already dead. Dang! All this drama and it’s not even nine a.m.” (p. 53).
“Mystery writers are the neurosurgeons of literature. Or maybe magicians. We work by slight of hand.” (p. 57).
“There are no secrets and there are no shortcuts. As an aspiring writer, what you need to know is that learning to write is self-taught, and learning to write well takes years.” (p. 60).
“Don’t be afraid to make money writing the kinds of things you’d never write for the fun of it. There’s no shame in earing a living, whatever your write, even catalog copy or fluffy magazine articles, makes you a better writer.” (p. 192).
“A novelist’s job is to integrate information with the feelings and the stories of her characters, because a novel is about the alternation of the inner world and the outer world, what happens and what the characters fell about it. There’s no reason to write a novel unless you’re going to talk about the inner lives of your characters. Without that, the material is dry. But without events and information, the novel seems subjective and pointless.” (p. 206).
“When I am writing, more than any other emotion, I feel excited.” (p. 209).
“Don’t write the book you think a publisher will want to publish. Write the book you want to research and the book you want to read.” (p.215).
Maran’s small book is well worth reading and you just might find a kindred spirit within its pages.
Allende—obsession Baldacci—compulsion Grafton—writing is my anchor and my purpose Patchett—can’t do anything else Smiley—to investigate things
*826 National is a nonprofit organization that provides strategic leadership, administration, and other resources to ensure the success of its network of seven—soon to be eight—writing and tutoring centers.
Photos courtesy of Amazon