Review by Jaleesa Bucheli
Not like your usual writing guidebook, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life allows readers to learn about writing, what comes with it and most importantly, life. Anne Lamott uses her experiences in writing that followed her throughout her life and transforms it into a guide to the writer’s world for her readers. For anyone who writes or wants to write, she makes it clear that there is only one choice available, commitment to the process of writing. Anne Lamott says, "The real payoff is the writing itself, that a day when you have gotten your work done is a good day, that total dedication is the point". Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life was originally published in New York, 1994 by Pantheon Books and with it came great success.
Apart from this book, Lamott is the author of seven novels including All New People, Joe Jones, Blue Shoe, etc. She is also known for her best selling books of nonfiction, Operating Instructions and Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son, and Bird by Bird.
This book is a great read because it is not like your ordinary instruction manual book to writing, instead, they’re stories which allows readers to relate to the writer and her journey to writing and the obstacles she had to overcome. Readers build an understanding of the writing world. We are lead to know that sometimes it is hard, you don’t always get what you expect, things don’t always go as planned, but regardless one should never give up and should continue writing if that is what you love to do. This is what Lamott tries to explain throughout her book, Bird by Bird.
One thing that I enjoyed about this reading is the example that the author gives on one of her published works about her father’s diagnosis with brain cancer. Her father had advised her to turn this tragedy into a story. He told her to pay attention and to take notes, and eventually these writings became short stories that later became published a year after her father’s death. With this example, Lamott demonstrates that although she had her first ever publication, it was not all happiness and success. She still had a lot of work to do, and she explains her journey with her continued writing. Anne Lamott is a serious writer, but at the same time she is honest and puts a piece of herself in each writing which allows her work to become real.
by Claudia Martinez
Now Write! Mysteries: Suspense, Crime, Thriller, and Other Mystery Fiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writer and Teachers was edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson. The book was published in 2011 by Penguin Group Inc. Sherry Ellis edited the Now Write! Series. Laurie Lamson is a writer, a filmmaker, and book editor. Lamson has edited the Now Write! Screenwriting with Sherry Ellis as well as this book. The overall purpose of this book is to be able to help writers through the process of writing a mystery book or story. Each chapter is composed of sections. And in every section there is an exercise that the reader could do and get some ideas.
In addition, the different sections have personal experiences of different authors that provide insight on why an activity could be so important to the writing process. One example is the first chapter has a section dedicated to research. The author describes the importance of research and makes it relatable by giving his own experience. When I read the section on research I thought it would have been boring or uninteresting because it is not fun or amusing. But I personally found the different experiences to be very enjoyable.
Stephen Schwartz is the author in this particular section. He had mentioned that he was able to convince all of his professors to let him do research on the Navajo reservations, which allowed him to miss two whole weeks of college. His road trip to gather information was titled research but he realized that it was something that he could enjoy doing. When the author gave this experience it made a difference and truly showed how it could be fun and interesting but also never forgetting its importance.
I believe that others, like students or teachers, would be able to enjoy the book because it is not just some manual that just gives you steps. It provides a different perspective on the writing process and it is also specific towards mysteries. It also provides exercises that could really help the juices flow for a writer.
by Cole Hackbarth
In 2005, Bison Books published Ted Kooser’s guidebook The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets. In this “manual”, Ted Kooser offers advice to everyone on how to create, write, and possibly publish poems of their own. Ted Kooser has been writing poetry for almost fifty years, during that time he has published twelve collections of poetry, has been named the Poet Laureate of the United States, and is currently a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
When writing this guidebook, Kooser wanted to offer practical advice to poets of different skills and styles in the hopes of improving them. The guidebook consists of twelve chapters, with each chapter discussing the steps to take when writing a poem, and also other various aspects involved with writing poetry. Within each chapter, Kooser provides some of his own poems as examples when trying to teach the reader a lesson. Kooser also supplies other contemporary poems from other poets, as well as a few older poems from poets like Emily Dickinson included.
I myself am not much of a poet, but Kooser wrote this guidebook in a way that even I could understand by keeping technical poetry language to a minimum, and then providing a practical example to help readers understand. An example of this can be seen on page 47, when Kooser says that the form of a poem is comparable to a package of ham. The poem can be seen as the entire package, with the words and messages being the ham cubes, and the form being the container. Kooser tries to send the message that the important pieces of the poem are the ham cubes. Each chapter is very much like this, and Kooser is successful with each example he provides. Another thing I enjoyed about Kooser is how friendly and realistic he sounded in this guidebook, On page 49 he is honest and says how a sestina”is a whole hell of a lot of work”, and I definitely appreciate this honesty.
I think that other people would enjoy this book because it is a book that everybody can pick up and understand. The tone of the book is friendly, one that shows that poetry isn’t as threatening as people think it is. I certainly recommend it, and hope that other people decide to give this guidebook the same chance I did.
By Chase Harrison
It is fitting that Stephen King’s On Writing begins with a preface describing a band that he performs in: the art of music is a generally more personal art than almost any other medium, and this prelude sets up an intimate and wide ranging exploration of the world around King that created the world within his voluminous body of work.
Part autobiography and part manual for writers, On Writing is written with the same attention to detail, wry sense of humor, and casual attitude towards the harrowing that marks King’s other works, but in this more personal and casual environment it is fascinating to find how much of his writing persona is found in his own life.
The autobiographical portion of the book focuses on King’s relationship with the world of literature, starting with his youthful obsession with horror comic books, cascading through his early days of writing Carrie while working as a high school teacher, and following his ongoing success through to present day. In a classic bit of King intrigue, there is a running, subtle thread underneath much of this portion of the book: King’s alcoholism. In between passages about his rising success and his thoughts about his individual works there are passing references to the fact that his memories of this period are foggy because of how drunk he was for much of that period (in a moment of sad comedy, he notes that he quite likes Cujo, despite the fact that he has no recollection of writing it). It is a thrilling account of the pre-internet process of becoming a famous author, with all the anachronisms and surreal moments that come with that setting, and is a great addition to the Stephen King canon in its own right.
The second half of the book is a typically opinionated account of what Stephen King considers to be good writing. The most important passage of the book unfolds when King undergoes an analysis of each of the elements of a book and notes what he likes to see and what he would rather avoid from those elements. Though his descriptions of his enjoyment are enjoyable, it’s more fun (and more educational) when he rips into specific authors and narrative and rhetorical devices that he hates. This is followed by a number of musings on the nature of writing, finishing with a gorgeous passage about the location of his desk, summing up perfectly the balance between art and the artist in unexpectedly saccharine prose from King.
On Writing displays the many sides that make up of Stephen King: excellent writer, broken and reformed man, avid consumer of all media, and overall a mind that is among the best of the 20th century. If your goal is to become a master of suspense, you may be disappointed, but if you want to become a better writer and a better person, you can’t do much better than On Writing.