Monday, August 5, 2013

Reads for Writers: The Modern Library Writer's Workshop by Stephen Koch

From Kate's Writing Crate…

            As much as I love solitude and writing, I also enjoy feeling like part of a team. Since authors are not dropping by my office every day to discuss writing, I read books quoting them about their writing habits and advice.

            Recently, I finished The Modern Library Writer's Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch. The chapters covering Beginnings, The Writing Life, Shaping the Story, Making Characters Live, Inventing Your Style, The Story of the Self, Working and Reworking, and Finishing are filled with examples and quotes from authors famous and new-to-me.

            On page 34: "Writing a novel is gathering smoke," says Walter Mosley. "It's an excursion into the ether of ideas." [Stephen Koch adds] Most people dismiss most of their imaginative life with amused indifference, and maybe a little contempt. That is where you must part company with most people. Your fantasies are a resource…you must catch them, hold them, and exploit them.

            On page 42: [Stephen Koch writes] Read for love. Every writer ought to fall in love with some new writer or work with fair regularity, and the passion should hit with a fervor that makes each new book a hot date and every stolen fifteen minutes of browsing an intoxicated rendezvous... "being swept away," says Stephen King, "by a combination of great story and great writing—of being flattened, in fact—is part of every writer's necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you."

            On page 86: If you begin with a character, Ray Bradbury advises that you "find a character like yourself, who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go. The character, in his great love or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story."
            On page 115: [Stephen Koch writes] Many writers tune their ear for prose by starting their day with a prose stimulant—a good, hot, steaming cup of strong, perfect prose… "I'll read something," says Maya Angelou, "maybe the Psalms…something from Mrs. Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson…Mary Gordon has an elaborate ritual: "Before I take pen to paper, I read. I can't begin my day reading fiction; I need the more intimate tone of letters and journals."
            On page 205 is the chapter entitled Postscript: Writing on the Craft that lists with descriptions recommended reading of authors and books from the Ancients to modern times. I have read many of these books. My favorites include: Bird By Bird; The Writer's Chapbook; Zen in the Art of Writing; On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft; One Writer's Beginnings; and The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers.
            Stephen Koch's book is a terrific resource for inspiration. I have underlined and marked pages in half the book roughly. This is always a sign to me that the book should be recommended to others.
Please let me know if you enjoy this book, too.

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