Over the weekend, I read by : How to Write from Everyday LifeRobert Wolf. I mentioned part of it last week, but wanted to give a full review. It’s not a new book – it was published back in 2001 – but since I’ve only recently been reading about the craft of writing rather than learning from other writers, I suppose the information in it is new to me.
The author is the founder of Free River Press, which grew out of writing workshops he put on throughout the Southeast and Midwest in which he encouraged people to think about their lives through writing, and gave them practical tools to perform the task. He targeted small town farmers and even homeless people as he worked with them to develop their ability to write.
Jump Start is broken into seven very easy-to-digest chapters, each of which is made of up a bit of information relay, then examples of the discussed technique, followed by exercises for practice. The chapters each cover various aspects of the author’s workshop seminars. The first chapter addresses preliminary matters, in which he emphasizes the importance of writing (practice, practice, practice!), reading, memorizing special passages of favorite books (yeah, even fiction), and several other things he feels are valuable practice to prepare for writing.
The second chapter covers strategies for either getting started in writing, or breaking writer’s block down. This is my favorite chapter, for obvious reasons, and represented solid gold. The techniques included free writing (which I talked over with you last week), storytelling (I also blogged about this one), Jack Kerouac’s favorite technique of spontaneous prose composition, “sketching” (which is just like it sounds, except with words instead of lines) – and this can also be used as note taking for fast-action events or fast-moving ideas – and a couple of others.
Chapter three discusses observation, and how to use the other techniques to capture your observations. Whether people or places, whether edited or raw, the author shows some examples of observations from his workshops. Portraits are especially cool. Chapter four goes over writing and revision, and how to work through the other techniques learned to compile a more finished product. Chapter five discusses dialog and conversation, including accents and dialects, which are fun and a weakness of mine. Chapter six is focused on how to go about writing a memoir, from recollection through to decisions about relevant stories for storyline and theme, and the final chapter is all about group exercises in the event you’re working with a teacherless sort of group or class.
I can’t say enough good things about this book. At 155 pages including the credits and bibliography, this book is packed full of real, digestible information and excellent examples. The exercises will be sure to challenge you and are set up for use either alone or with a group. The author’s experience in helping people write is clear and obvious, and his language has been adapted to suit every level of understanding.
On a scale of one to ten, I’d give this a ten. But that’s me. It’s small, a quick read, delivers excellent information, has exercises to reinforce the concepts and principles, and really does provide great techniques to give the writer that Jump Start so many of us desperately need.
If you get a chance to read it or pick it up, and you haven’t done so already, you won’t regret it.