Mar 13, 2012

The number is 52.

Now you couldn’t be faulted for thinking the number equated to weeks in a year, but that’s not its significance here. Its calculation required a careful count, which started with the small shelves on either side of files behind my desk, 16 found there; continued with the small bookcase that mostly holds extra copies of lit journals featuring my work (which I can’t seem to ever give away) where sit another 13; add the largest amount, 20, from the coveted slots on my Levenger, swiveling bookcase, located next to my sacred reading chair, where I keep books both revered and for reference (I WILL read that latest translation of “War and Peace,” dammit…eventually); and the final stragglers, 3 in all, located among the repository shelves banished to a dark corner of the basement. These are all books on the craft of writing, and God help me, I’ve read them all—a few even multiple times.

It all started during my first ever writing workshop, six years ago, when I asked Lynne Tillman (a brilliant writer who patiently encouraged this, at the time, total novice), for any recommendations of writing instruction books. She couldn’t come up with any off the top of her head, but the next day suggested books by Josip Novakovich. Good stuff. Six years later and I’ve bought 50 more! (I’m not including the five years of back issues of The Writer magazine because I don’t want to give the impression I’m a total lunatic…)

Please understand that when I say “craft” book, I’m including some works which qualify more as meditations on art, using writing for focus, as opposed to nuts and bolts, how-to tomes. A few of the best of these are: “Becoming a Writer” by Dorothea Brande, “The Art of Fiction” by John Gardner, “The Triggering Town” by Richard Hugo, and “The Half-Known World” by Robert Boswell. These books are so damn engrossing that I’d recommend them to anyone interested in art, let alone language.

I don’t have time now to review all the so-called craft books in my collection, and a few would be best ignored, but I will highlight a few in future posts. There is no end to the variety of ideas, exercises, and rules covered in these works, and although quite a few do overlap in their core teachings, there are nonetheless many standouts that I find myself referring to time and again…These I will share with you.

Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I will undoubtedly buy and read many more writing craft books in the coming months, I’m addicted, but let’s hope my writing improves in equal measure. Otherwise, I’ll have to admit: I may be a touch insane!


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