The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, October 15, 2007


By Tamara Lee

When it comes to perusing the slough of writer’s how-to books in the Reference section at the Local Bookstore Chain, I am very picky. If I don’t recognize the name, I give it a pass. If I do recall the name, I flip through the book certain it’ll be another wanky how-to describing boring games for unblocking your block and other writer clichés. I don’t know what I’m looking for, really. Often the ‘advice’ contained therein is either so esoteric or same-old, that I berate myself for giving into my curiosity in the first place. But the addiction persists.

Sometimes, though, I catch a good memorable buzz.

Now, do I need another how-to book? Not especially. Do I need another kick in the arse? Well, yeah. Sagging enthusiasm in a project always demands some attention. Usually, I read just enough to cull a bit of useful advice, catch a writer-advice cliché sniffle, then get on my way back to work.

Two books I perused on my latest procrastination attempt were Carolyn See’s ‘Making a Literary Life’ and Walter Mosley’s ‘This Year You Write Your Novel’. Since I like both of these writers, both their works and their personas, I wasn’t surprised to get a bit of something from what I read (carefully ignoring the annoyed gazes from surly bookstore clerks).

What I culled from Carolyn See’s book, written in a folksy style, with some great anecdotes (using real names, no less) was this: Write 1000 words/day, 5 days/week for the rest of your life, and send charming notes to people (preferably artists) whom you admire. There’s more advice of course, like a bit on revising, but I don’t remember much of it. I was mostly struck by the idea of the charming notes. Her suggestion to send one a day is a bit much for my lifestyle, but the idea behind writing a positive note to someone you admire immediately terrified and intrigued me.

Mosley's book, on the other hand, is more hard-nosed. What I like about Mosley’s style is its straight-forwardness, a voice that seems unwilling to accept bullshit, while at the same time recognizing our fallibility. Mosley’s gift is his ability to get inside people’s head, as this excerpt reveals. He's heard all the excuses, "Now please, get on with it."

And so I did. I put the book back on the shelf, smiled at the clerk, and left.

What is it they say, a new habit is formed if done every day for 23 days? Something like that. Or maybe that's an AA motto...


Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Hey, Tamara, I just went looking for "Ron Carlson Writes a Story". I'm a little addicted to those books, too. I usually reach for one when I'm stuck.

Mon Oct 15, 09:32:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I LOVE the idea of charming notes but, like you, I think five days a week is a bit much. I'll start with one a week and see if I can manage that. Thanks, Tamara. Interesting post.

Mon Oct 15, 11:54:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

A little voice at the back of my mind always asks the same question of the author, no matter how good the how-to book.

Mon Oct 15, 09:51:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Thanks for dropping by, guys.

Yes, I keep thinking about the charming note thing too. Who said it, George Eliot maybe, to do one thing every day that scares you. I think the charming note would qualify for me.

Mon Oct 15, 11:48:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger MelBell said...

Love the charming note thing. Jeez. I just want to do that because it's such a lovely idea - almost a random act of kindness. Who wouldn't like to receive a charming note!? The only challenge would be spending hours trying to locate a physical/proper address to send the charming note. E-mail has become so ubiquitous.

Tue Oct 16, 10:04:00 am GMT-4  

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