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Book Reports: Saul Rip Hansen


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The Writing Life - Annie Dillard

 

1. How did the book help you as a writer? What overall aspects of it taught you something?

This is the journal entry I wrote directly after finishing the book:

 

In reading this book I find myself wishing I had read it in my early teens, so as to have clearer expectations for the life of a writer, though by now, I largely have learned the same lessons on my own. Enough time in any craft allows a person to bump into tricks of the trade in the dark, and in this way of bumping into them in the dark, the artist happens upon the secrets. In this way this book felt...validating, like a sigh of relief, "Thank God, it's that way for me too." Even still, I felt validation as readily as fear. I recognize my weakness--I hate to discard what I have fought for, and sometimes I write a section of words and think, "This sounds good, this reads well," but I am not critical enough, or educated enough to be critical on my own work, and know for certain that what I have written is good, and know why, or know instantly that it is bad, and know why. Even in studying great literature, and enjoying to read great literature, and studying English, and learning to speak Spanish and French, and after doing so, really understand the mechanics of English and of languages and communication in general, I have no confidence in my writing abilities. I have worked hard to learn the trade, I know I have paid a great price, and that I have paid far more than many and most who say they want to be writers. I put my work up for critique, but as it does take time to write, it is often years between postings. So too, this book whispers my inner doubts into life again, like softly blowing on nearly dead embers to re-ignite the fire. I wonder, "Am I cut out for this?" As Julian Barnes implied, not much harm comes to those who are not writers--but stories poor through me, and thoughts I can't help but record--I must do it. I am driven to it more firmly than any other thing, more than to love or relationships--neglecting whatever must be neglected to capture the words is an easy sacrifice, but as time penalizes artists for capturing moments of it for others to admire, (and the penalty is highest for writers), others don't understand the envelopment of the craft, the rarity of flow, or the fierce struggle it took to hear the words, and to then carefully place them in the correct order. Neglecting what others cherish seems absurd to them, and it is just as pointless to attempt to explain it them. But as I am a human, I neglect the cherished only as long as I dare, as I do cherish other things also, I attempt at balance in my life. It's all a struggle I suppose. Even so, even with the doubt, I can't stop. To stop is to lose excitement to live. So one step from death. And since I can't stop, I might as well be good.

 

2. What two or three major lessons did you learn from the book that you can apply to your writing and/or your novel?

I think that the magic of English is that it teaches more about life than it really teaches about the mechanics of the language. In that way I feel that this book was touching on many levels, but it taught me just as much about life as it did about writing, making it a precious book to me. I make my own index in any book I read, and place it on the inside cover. Here are the takeaways that were most meaningful to me.

- It takes a long time to write a book: page 13

- Aim for quality literature: page 18

- How we spend our days, we spend our lives: page 32

- Sensation, vs. spirit: page 32

- Know when to toss a project: page 7-8

- Cool quote on chapter 7: Page 90

 

3. Was there anything in the books that obviously conflicted with lessons and readings in our novel writing program. If so, what were they?

No, I don't feel there was anything contradictory. This book was an excellent compliment to the novel writing course.

 

The Art of Fiction - John Gardner

 

1. How did the book help you as a writer? What overall aspects of it taught you something?

This is the journal entry I wrote directly after finishing the book:

 

This book has been more helpful than any other book I have read relating to the method of writing fiction. I found answers I have searched for, for years. I have lived with the uncertainty, "Am I a good writer? Do I have any natural genius? And how do I really know? What is the criteria so that I may obey it?" This book put much of my soul to rest, by giving the assurance, "yes, these things are measurable, it isn't all dependent on preference or subjectivity." In this way, I feel immense gratitude toward this book, and it's author, and will use it as a frequent study guide. The material inside begs to be absorbed, but for one with a mind such as mine it is impossible to do so with just a casual reading. I feel it a privilege to revisit the pages, as the author's credibility and confidence is so strong I feel I can trust him, and that following his advice will improve my craft, not steer me onto diverse paths of obscured writing. Every time I pick up this book I will feel gratitude, and am already eager to re-read it with the goal of achieving even more moments of awakening and discovery as my understanding of these concepts expands. An excellent read.

 

2. What two or three major lessons did you learn from the book that you can apply to your writing and/or your novel?

I make my own index in any book I read, and place it on the inside cover. Here are the takeaways that were most meaningful to me.

 

- Self education: page 12

- Book to read and study: page 18

- Summary of rules explained thus far: page 33

- Describe things in a particular mood: page 36

- Style, how to write: page 49

- Pace, emphasis and function: 59

- Points of view: page 76

- Definition of metafiction: page 87

- Mistakes with language: page 98

- infinite verbs - and the passive voice vs. compound predicates: page 100

- Explanation and psychic distance: page 111

- Frigidity: page 118

- Sentiment vs. sentimentality: page 115

- Objective and subjective: page 131

- Imitation: page 142

- Vocabulary: 144

- Delay: 159

- Assigning symbols consciously: page 174

3. Was there anything in the books that obviously conflicted with lessons and readings in our novel writing program. If so, what were they?

No, I don't feel there was anything contradictory. This book was an excellent compliment to the novel writing course.

 

Writing the Breakout Novel - Donald Maass

 

1. How did the book help you as a writer? What overall aspects of it taught you something?

This is the journal entry I wrote directly after finishing the book:

 

My greatest takeaway from this book was on theme. My biggest unanswered questions have revolved around theme--the temptation to skip to the end of this book was tremendous, how mean to place it at the end. I am so pleased and relieved to discover that the author's opinions on theme match one hundred percent with my personal experience of theme. I have felt frustrated that I cannot select a them before I start and successfully hold to it and reinforce it. Theme has always been elusive to me, as it has and does emerge on its own, like a live character that has come to life an acts upon its own will, not mine. What a relief to hear that that is acceptable. Again, I feel nothing but gratitude to this book and its author. I have taken many notes of techniques to incorporate into my own story, but more than anything this book was validating to me that overall I have happened upon good practices of storytelling just as a matter of writing in great volume, and having spend a great deal of time in the craft, I have uncovered good principles of writing. I felt it, but wasn't sure of it, and so I lacked confidence in my writing. This book has assured me, that (mostly) I am on track. Some correction is needed, but not bad at all. I will make the change. Willingness has never been the problem, it has been knowing what to do.

 

 

2. What two or three major lessons did you learn from the book that you can apply to your writing and/or your novel?

I make my own index in any book I read, and place it on the inside cover. Here are the takeaways that were most meaningful to me.

 

- An excellent third person example of being in a characer's head: page 111

- Book on screenwriting: page 116

- Endings and climax of multiple sub-plot conflicts (I think I nailed this one): page 195

- Theme: page 234, 235, 237, 239

 

3. Was there anything in the books that obviously conflicted with lessons and readings in our novel writing program. If so, what were they?

No, I don't feel there was anything contradictory. This book was an excellent compliment to the novel writing course.

 

Write Away- Elizabeth George

 

1. How did the book help you as a writer? What overall aspects of it taught you something?

I read this book last of the four, and I am so glad I did. The level of validation I felt from this book is so great that it is by far my most favorite of the four books. This is the journal entry I wrote directly after finishing the book:

 

This book was refreshing, and greatly a relief because her process is nearly identical to my own, minus a novel journal, I'm not that sentimental (or wise) to take notes that can act as encouragement later. For me the clock is ticking, the sands of time are falling, and with each grain I am closer to death, which is incapacity to capture moments of time, whether fictional or one of my filtered versions of reality--not being able to record, to capture, fills me with fear. As such, writing is a matter of survival, something I must do--indeed, like breathing. This book was valuable, for techniques I will adopt, but mostly it was validating. I am on the right track.

 

2. What two or three major lessons did you learn from the book that you can apply to your writing and/or your novel?

I make my own index in any book I read, and place it on the inside cover. Here are the takeaways that were most meaningful to me.

 

- Character Analysis: page 48

- How to start a book: page 66

- Shifting third person: page 96

- Ways of writing a scene: page 129

- How to know when to discard a sentence, or how to change it: page 159

- Writing critique groups: page 202

- Plot structures: page 208

- What life is really like for writers: page 254

- THAD's: page 56-57

 

3. Was there anything in the books that obviously conflicted with lessons and readings in our novel writing program. If so, what were they?

No, I don't feel there was anything contradictory. This book was an excellent compliment to the novel writing course.

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