As you know, this blog doesn’t often post book reviews. Book tour announcements, sure, author appearances, yeah, but not so much the book reviews. Your Examiner gets requests now and again to review a book, and she finds herself obliged, regretfully, to say no to them all. So many books to read, so little time!
But your Examiner has recently run across a particular gem in the genre of how-to-write/writer-self-help books that is uniquely helpful and yet hadn’t crossed her radar before. How does that happen? Also, it just happens to be written by a former University of Colorado writing teacher. It would be silly not to share it with you, so here goes.
Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer
by Bruce Holland Rogers
Buy it at the Boulder Book Store
Check it out at the Boulder Public Library
Bruce Holland Rogers–one time resident of Boulder, currently at home in Eugene, Oregon–is a hugely prolific short story author. His short stories fill multiple collections and have won awards across the genre spectrum. Additionally, you can subscribe to his thrice-monthly short story subscription service, ShortShortShort, for ten dollars a year. That means he writes at minimum thirty-six new stories a year. And then there are his novels…
Being such a hard-working writer, Rogers has accumulated several lifetimes’ worth of knowledge on the topic of “surviving and thriving as a writer.” That’s exactly what his book Word Work brings to the table.
Here you will not find technique exercises a la Ursula K. LeGuin’s Steering the Craft, nor writing prompts and meditations to release your authentic voice a la Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Here neither can can be found specific homework assignments nor literary business advice of the sort you’ll read in Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life.
The chapters of this book, many of which had their origins in Rogers’s “Staying Alive” columns at Speculations, deal with a sort of in-between area of advice. There’s no “tough love” here to tell you what you “real” writers do, and how you’ll never be a “real” writer if you don’t do them. Rogers isn’t trying to make you defend your right to call yourself a writer. But at the same time his advice is down-to-earth, grounded in the day-to-day business of being a writer, which puts it in a separate sub-genre from the aspirational artists’ affirmations types of books. Everything is couched in terms of description and suggestion: Here are the struggles he’s observed himself going through, here are the ways he deals with them, here are the ways other authors of his acquaintance have dealt with them, here are things you might try.
His advice is grounded in the usefully here and now. In a particularly relatable bit, he admits to seeking quick-fix magic bullet solutions, just like the rest of us do…
Sounds like a long chore of therapy and self-improvement lies ahead, doesn’t it? Fortunately, I believe in self-improvement only as a last resort. I’d rather find techniques that work for my unimproved self, things that will work today. I don’t have time for much self-improvement.
Not that he neglects the long-haul approach entirely, mind you. But he focuses on easily accessible tips and tricks that might help you out now, today, while you’re waiting for the long-haul work of self-improvement to take.
What sorts of day-to-day writers’ struggles does he address? All kinds. The hazards and benefits of writing workshops, ways to turn on the mood to write rather than waiting for it to occur on its own, several species of inner procrastinator and how to protect them so they’ll let you get the job done, ten different categories of taking a break, a spotters guide to the potential problems of having another writer for a life partner, a spotters guide to potential problems with partnering with a non-writer, the question of quitting your day job as seen from the place where you confront your own mortality, making peace in the war between commercial success and artistic fulfillment, dream interpretation for the writer who doesn’t believe in dream interpretation…
The list goes on. There is a lot more inside this book than its 256 pages would suggest.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this book is the feeling that Rogers gets you. Avoidance and procrastination, successes that don’t feel like success, the seeming inability to get started for the day or to push through the middle of a project, the big sale that makes it impossible to write for months afterwards, vulnerability to toxicity… he’s experienced it all. And he acknowledges it all. There are enough harsh voices screaming that “real” writers don’t get writer’s block, “real” writers don’t avoid the blank page, “real” writers don’t get discouraged, that it’s comforting to hear a demonstrably real writer say, “Hell yeah they do. I sure do. I’d be surprised if you didn’t. I’ve learned some tricks for working through it–maybe they’ll help you too.”
It’s very likely that some of Rogers’s advice will help you. If not, perhaps it’ll help you get closer to the strategies that will. Give this book a try.