Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Writerama




I usually don't like books on writing but sometimes when I am in the thick of a novel and it feels out of my control, I reach for them, either to reassure myself or to see if there might be something--even a line--in there, that might help me.

A lot of the time, I think the advice is wrong-headed, or maybe it's just that it's too obvious conversing about the things I already know. I want to be surprised. But recently, I picked up From Where You Dream by Pulitzer prize winner Robert Olen Butler and the book is like a revelation. Maybe it's the language he uses, but even the things I do know about writing seem new here. Instead of talking about how important it is that every character want something, he uses the better word: yearning. Instead of the writer talking about the idea he or she has for a story, Butler insists it's far better to think about the emotional nuances, because emotion is where you build your story. You dig into the subconscious and he gives great advice on how to get into the "zone."

I haven't finished the book, but I've already recommended it to my UCLA students, and truly, I haven't been so exhilarated since I read John Truby, the screenwriting guru, whose simple change of the word "backstory" to "ghost" made me look at backstory in a different, richer way.

I think what I really like is the feeling that this voice from this particular book is down in the writing trenches with me. Reassuring me. Pushing me on. And that's pretty wonderful.

8 comments:

Sorell Says... said...

I love this book!! I too, love the way he speaks about the writing process. At the beginning of the novel that I am working on now, I used one of the techniques he recommends...writing from the dream state...and was able to work my way through a difficult turning point.

Always good to hear another take on what we may already know. We can never have enough inspiration!

Caroline said...

Isn't he brilliant?

Sorell Says... said...

Brilliant!!

Sandra Gulland said...

I LOVE this book -- it is always with me. In particular, Chapter 5: A WRITER PREPARES, has changed the way I begin writing.

Katharine Weber said...

I sit all alone on a different writing bench -- this book left me cold!

Caroline Leavitt said...

Really, Katharine? I want to know why. I'd also love to know if you like any writing books.

Katharine Weber said...

I felt that my writing strategies, compared to the process invitations in this book, if I may call them that, were either worlds apart or so similar that I wesn't learning anything new.

Ten years ago, I loved Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular by Rust Hills. I don't know how I would feel about it if I read it today.

Yvonne said...

I absolutely love Robert Butler. He has inspired my writing, and has given me the confidence to write through the senses. I would love to meet him sometime!

Yvonne from Massachusetts