Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Everything Creative Writing Book 2nd Edition (2010)

     The Everything Creative Writing Book (2010) feels like the kind of book one should read immediately before taking an introductory creative writing class.  It contains a lot of good information, but there is a distinct lack of depth.  It glosses over most of the differences between the kinds of writing it purports to address, giving desperately little insight into applying creative writing to business reports or essays.  Indeed, there seems to be a disconnect between the notion of creative writing and simply not writing something awful in a different form.  Bad writing is not just bad writing, it is bad in relation to its intended purpose in addition to any other failings it may have.
     Perhaps the main problem is that the book attempts to cover too much material.  Letters to the editor, essays, and business proposals all require writing, but probably don't need to be in a book on the topic of creative writing.  Poetry felt rather awkwardly inserted into the mix as well, but I also have a bias against the form because I often have problems finding the rhythm the author intended .  Writing plays (and screenplays) is also covered, something that I gravitate towards because I do enjoy writing an over abundance of dialogue (see this old short story) into almost story.  Why not do it in a format where it is more accepted?  Unfortunately, The Everything Creative Writing Book spends no time addressing the format of plays and scripts.  To make up for this, it does explain a small amount of the lingo for screenplays, like slug line.
     Though relatively recent, the book cannot help but feel dated.  When it references self-publishing, there is still the assumption of printing physical copies of a book (or magazine or comic book) rather than simply choosing the e-reader friendly formats that Amazon and Barnes & Noble make available to just about any aspiring author.  Sure, the information on how to get an ISBN is nice, but essentially the self-publisher is going to search for information on the same topic in more detail on the internet.  Likewise, the information on how to get one's book into libraries feels very thin – another area where the purpose had to be more of keeping the idea in the reader's head rather than giving definitive information.
     What author Wendy Burt-Thomas does the best job of conveying is that the material an author has after the first draft is most certainly not to be considered to ever be on par with reviewed, rewritten, and edited work.  She does not make much of an effort to deal with the difference of authors whose first revisions are complete rewrites (effectively treating the first draft as a means of outlining and providing details for a story that has yet to be properly written), revisions (what I assume is standard rewriting), and editing, except in asides.
     It is hard to find something new in the fourth book on writing I've read this month.  There is bound to be a lot of re-stating the core principles: write every day when you are writing, treat rewriting and editing as serious endeavors, not everything you write is going to be good – even when it is finished.  But Burt-Thomas is somewhat more forgiving in telling the aspiring author that it is okay to take time away from a project (and even from writing, though this is supposed to be kept brief).  When she does the best job of is keeping the material positive at almost all times.  There is almost nothing in the book that will discourage the would-be author, and she is quick to point out that if the criticism is constructive it isn't going to be of much use to correcting the errors. 
     While How Not to Write a Novel (2008) is a more entertaining read, The Everything Creative Writing Book is undoubtedly a better resource when it comes to guiding beginning writers and aspiring authors into finishing their projects.  As long as one ignores how little most of the interviews add to the material, and that the essay and screenplay examples in the appendix are less than stellar (they will no doubt make most writers feel good about their own work), it is a solid book.  My one real complaint about it would be that her suggested writing exercises seem more tedious than insightful, but that is not enough for me to not recommend the book.

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