Monday, March 11, 2013

Book Review: Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do

Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do
Edited by Meredith Maran

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

Truly fascinating! A sensational read! Delightful, charming, and amazing don’t fully capture my impression. Whether you are a writer, someone who wants to become a writer, or just someone interested in the remarkable world of writers, you will be as thrilled by the sincere, candid, no-nonsense, matter-of-fact candor of these authors as I was.

Now, you may quibble with my use of the phrase, "remarkable world of writers," but you will have greater appreciation for my use of the phrase when you know that I am a writer too. When I say, "remarkable world of writers," it is simply that I find so many of these authors accurately describing my world. I have written about "my world" in numerous blog entries and my essay, "So you want to write a book?" is essay 23 in And Then Some: Essays to Entertain, Motivate, & Inspire. I have been a professional writer for close to forty years. That may be why I so closely identify with this book. I wish it could have been twice as long; for me, twenty authors just wasn’t enough.

In addition to the way each of the authors answered the question, "Why do you write?" I found the format of the book both informative and instructive. That is, Maran, as the editor, begins each chapter with a quotation from one of the author’s books, provides details about each author’s "vitals" (birthday, current home, schooling, honors and awards, notable notes, as well as website, facebook, and twitter addresses), then lists the author’s "collected works." Those sections are followed by the author’s answer to the question, "Why I write," and each chapter ends with two, three, or sometimes even four "Wisdom for Writers" where each author provides specific suggestions—most useful, of course, for aspiring writers.

So many of the writers here respond to the statement, "Why I write," by saying something similar to what Sue Grafton writes, "Seriously," she says, "I write because it’s all I know how to do." James Frey says, "I’m really not qualified to do anything else." Susan Orlean says, "Writing is all I’ve ever done. I don’t think of it as a profession. It’s just who I am." Ann Patchett responds to the statement in this way: "I write because I swear to God I don’t know how to do anything else."

My personal response to the statement about why I write is multifaceted. I find numerous joys in the act of writing and the first, and most obvious, is pleasure—the pleasure I experience in having an outlet for expressing my ideas. There is pleasure, too, in capturing the abstract conceptions and notions of my mind in concrete, tangible language. A second reason I write has to do with instruction—sharing my views of the world with others. Through articles, books (mostly college textbooks), speeches, and blog essays—and the responses of others to those products—I built efficacy—the belief in my ability to produce results.  In the book, in all the authors’ statements about why they write, there is (beyond their basic motivation to write) a sense of purpose. They have some overriding, all-encompassing value or set of principles that drives or compels them to continue. And what is important, too, is that it is the motivation, set of values or principles that keeps them buoyant through the hard times—when the creative well momentarily runs dry.

What the above paragraph displays is how this book forces you to look inside yourself. As I read, I conducted a wonderful, enriching, productive internal dialogue as I responded to what each author described. You see, writing gives me something to do, it rewards my needs as an independent person who enjoys autonomy, isolation, and solitude (writing is a solitary endeavor), it challenges me to think more deeply about everything, and it satisfies my need to acquire knowledge. I am forever the student. Occasionally, too, I have those moments some of these authors talk about when you, as an author, become a channel or conduit for a force greater than yourself—when all you are is a secretary (and observer) in one of the most awe-inspiring, stirring, mind-blowing occurrences in writing. The only question then is can your fingers on the keyboard keep up with the thoughts coming from your brain?

This book not only allows you inside the writer’s brain, allows you to understand the world in which they live, but it offers, too, a realistic view of the challenges, difficulties, and arduous task that writing truly is. Anyone who dreams of being an author will surely come away from reading this book with a far more grounded, reasonable, and hard-nosed assessment of what it’s all about. I absolutely loved this book, read it all in one sitting (228 pages of text in a 5 1/4" by 8" format), and wanted more—much more!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing the review and your feelings and thoughts as a writer....truly inspiring...

    I scribbled my reflections on my blog referring to your blog post. Please see

    Why do we do what we do??? Thanks for reminding me of this question!


Essays, SMOERs Words-of-Wisdom, Fridays Laugh, book reviews... And Then Some! Thank you for your comment.