Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Help! for Writers: 110 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces by Roy Peter Clark

Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces
by Roy Peter Clark
We're lucky to have Roy Peter Clark visit with us today. He's shared his thoughts on knowing when you're ready to share your work and to ask for input.

The best time to share your work with others

If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one near to hear it, does it make a sound?  What is the sound of one hand clapping?  Is a story a story if no one reads it?

Without getting all Zen on you, I’m tempted to share my thoughts on the metaphysics of the writing and reading experience.  I adhere to the Triangle Theory of storytelling.  That it is the writer who creates the text but the reader who turns it into a story.  Writer + Text + Reader = Story.  While the writer influences a reader’s response, the writer can not determine it.  Each reader will bring his or her own experience to the reading of a text, which accounts for the divergent responses writers receive for those they seek to serve.

I remember a wonderful cartoon of a cowboy and a horse in the desert.  Cowboy says:  “Well I guess you been a pretty good horse, a little slow maybe…” To which the horse responds:  “Not FEEDBACK, I want a FEEDBAG.”

Writers need feedback (and feedbags).  But it does matter who provides it and when.  You, the writer, must exercise control.  Over time, you should surround yourself with  people who will offer you their impressions.  One teacher or one editor is not enough.  You need a team. You need at least one voice that is reliably encouraging, and another that is tough but fair.  Here’s a key:  the earlier you are in the process, the more encouragement you need.  Near the end, you will need copy editors and proof readers.  But if the voices you hear early on are too negative, or too specific, they will only fuel your internal critic, that Watcher at the Gate who censors your most creative impulses.

More tips:  1) Tell your helper the kind of criticism you are looking for:  “I’d like you to tell me if this is clear to a lay person.”  2) Discipline yourself to think of harsh criticism – even insensitive criticism – as potentially helpful.  3)  Don’t argue against unreasonable criticism; just describe to the critic what you were trying to accomplish.  4) Think of any responder as a test reader, someone who can help you anticipate the full consequences of your efforts.

Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces
The blurb:
The craft of writing offers countless potential problems: The story is too long; the story is too short; revising presents a huge hurdle' writer's block is rearing its ugly head.

In Help! For Writers Roy Peter Clark presents an "owner's manual" for writers, outlining seven steps of the writing process and addressing twenty-one of the most urgent problems writers face.  In his trademark engaging and entertaining style, Clark offers ten short solutions to each problem.

Out of ideas? Read posters, billboards, and graffitti.  Can't bear to edit yourself? Watch the deleted scenes of a DVD and ask yourself why those scenes were left on the cutting room floor.  Help! For Writers offers 210 strategies to guide writers to success.

I gravitate towards books on writing and grammar in the hope that I'll become a better writer and reduce the tension and procrastination that often characterize a major deadline.  Unfortunately, while I tend to be optimistic about improving my writing, much as I tend to look for the latest fitness books in the hope that this will encourage me to "be more disciplined and healthier",  my follow through often falls short.

If you write and have reached the point where you feel ready to show your work to friends and critics, I know that you will benefit from the advice that Roy Clark offers above.

If you are still "working on" your writing, Help! For Writers provides practical advice and a technical approach to writing and thinking about writing.  When writing and editing, we try to pare our language down to the essentials, much the way that artists, creatives, and even lawyers reduce their ideas to the essential elements.  Clark suggests specific ways to do this, to reduce the unnecessary parts. 

I'm a timid writer.  I tend towards putting things away, disappointed by the first draft.  But chapter 11 "My early drafts are littered with cliches"  helped me put things in perspective.  The advice encourages us to realize that even mistakes and weaknesses can be used to bring us closer to our writing goals.  Clark encourages clear thinking and careful use of language directly and through his tips and exercises. 

While some books target a specific goal, such as writing a screenplay or a novel in several steps or using certain structures, Help! For Writers points out that "the writer does not have to get all Gothic to build cathedrals of words.  On many occasions, the holy trinity of beginning, middle, and end will get the job done."   Clark has gentle suggestions to help look at our problems and roadblocks and learn from them.  Clark gives us examples from other writers which made the concepts concrete.   Help! For Writers encourages us to write and gives specific and practical advice geared towards getting us to keep writing and to become better writers. 

ISBN-10: 0316126713 - Hardcover $22.99
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (September 21, 2011), 304 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Roy Peter Clark is vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute and has authored or edited 16 books bout writing and journalism.  He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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