Hey everyone, Cate here.
This is Debby's usual spot, but she's on deadline right now, so we swapped weeks. Given the topic of today's post, that's actually rather appropriate.
This month's craft book is an oldie but a goodie - Dennis Palumbo's Writing from the Inside Out. The subtitle is Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within.
As I was choosing a book to focus on this month, I spied this one on my shelf and was immediately transported back to that day in 2000 when I first bought and began to read it. Yup, over 20 years ago. I can testify to how long it's been sitting on my shelf based on my sneezes when I opened it to refresh my memory.
Opening this book was like sitting down to visit with an old friend. You immediately remember why you are drawn in. In this case, as soon as I read about the author alone in a rustic cabin in Carmel, CA with "only eleven or twelve bad pages, strewn about the room, two wastebaskets filled with crumpled paper" pacing and "rereading the same dozen pages," I knew I had found a kindred spirit.
As I was rereading the book, it dawned on me that my craft books are really divided into two main categories: Craft and Writer's Life.
As a pre-published author, I devoured both. I wanted to glean any bit of wisdom I could from those who had gone before me and made sense (and word magic) out of this writing process. I was a sponge absorbing all the advice.
But the books I preferred fell into the other category. Those, like Bird by Bird and this one (Writing from the Inside Out) spoke to my writer's soul. They let me feel like I was part of the secret club. They got me. They understood, really understood, that writing is not always (or even often) the blissful existence our more innocent selves might have imagined.
Writing is work. It can be fun, but it's hard work. It's hours spent staring at a blank screen or page on a day when the ideas won't flow. It's those crumpled balls of paper spilling from the trash can or the endless versions of a computer file. It's beautiful and uplifting (when it's working), and it's demoralizing and terrifying (when it's not working). It's messy first drafts, editor revisions, line edits and last minute changes. It's joyous and frustrating. It imparts a euphoria or has you pulling your hair out.
There are a lot of books that document the writing experience because authors love to talk shop and that often means sharing their own misery along with the successes.
I've always found it helpful to know I'm not alone in what I'm experiencing. There's comfort in knowing that no matter how big a hole you've dug for yourself, another author has been there before and, if you're lucky, can offer a figurative rope to pull you out.
Writing from the Inside Out is one of those kinds of books.
Dennis Palumbo is a highly successful novelist. Interestingly enough, he is also a licensed psychotherapist. But before he was either of those things, he was a Hollywood Screenwriter. The opening chapter that I mentioned above? It was his experience trying to write the screenplay for the Peter O'Toole movie My Favorite Year.
And despite all the horrid writing times in that cabin, he went on to be nominated for a Writer's Guild Award for Best Screenplay for that script. That serves as a good reminder that, no matter how arduous the task, the result can be glorious - if we keep at it!
Be warned:This is not a how-to book. It offers nary a rule, formula, nor recipe that will allow you to turn out a best-selling novel or a fabulous, million-dollar screenplay.
It is not that handy-dandy kind of book and that is just as well. Never before have so many of the smugly expert advised so many of the seemingly inexpert on how to write successfully... The pages that lie ahead provide far more valuable insights and practical tools for the working and/or would-be writer. Instead of a how-to, what Dennis Palumbo has written is a how-come book.
I love this Amazon blurb from Gary Shandling:
"Dennis Palumbo has great insight into a writer's psyche.... Every writer should have a shrink or this book. The book is cheaper."
So, a craft book from someone who is a writer and a therapist. Win-Win.
What do you think? What kind of craft books do you prefer?