Three Writing Books and a Prayer

by Jody Strimling-Muchow

I’ve been trying to re-connect with my writing.

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Recently, Life got in the way of my plans, in the form of an ill parent, and I’ve been rocketing halfway across the country and back every few months. In between I’ve been filling out paperwork and making sure my mother has groceries (thank goodness for the internet!) and trying to see that they’re both getting all the things they need. All on top of continuing to manage my own chronic illness. Suddenly it’s been months since I’ve produced anything other than the ocassional journal entry.

Someone asked me recently why I was even considering adding my writing to the list with all of that going on. “To get back to me,” I answered without hesitation, without even thinking about it. My writing is me. And I’m ready, no determined, to get back to work.

Sometimes, all I have to do is sit down, and whatever’s been brewing comes boiling out. But other times…I need some inspiration, and some praying, for anything to happen. This time I need to go slow, find the routine again, so I decided to hit the writing advice books. Sometimes going back to the basics can jog something loose, or simplify whatever I’m struggling with. Trying a new exercise has produced the seeds of stories. And it never hurts to remind myself, because it’s right there in black and white in almost every writing advice book I’ve seen: writing is hard.

Here are a few books that I’ve been finding helpful lately.

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The Human Nature of Playwrighting, by Samson Raphaelson, is a new discovery of a fairly old book. Published in 1949, the book is basically a transcript of a class that Raphaelson taught the year before, in which he led students to find events and/or people from their own lives to turn into one-act plays. As he puts it:

“I have a theory. Let’s say the object of this course is to put every student through an experience which will make him realize what it is like to write creatively—to look at life, at your own lives probably, to see something, to feel, to study that vision and emotion, to find a meaning in the material, a form, to put it down in words, to study it again, re-seek the meaning, revise your approach, write it again and again, until it is crystallized.”

This book is available only in ebook form, and only because it has such ardent fans that they couldn’t let it fade away. I think I see why.

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The Dramatist’s Toolkit, by Jeffrey Sweet, is the first book about writing plays that ever I picked up, on the recommendation of playwright friend. It’s a nuts and bolts how-to book about writing plays and, more, how to be a working playwright. Sweet covers everything from technique, structure and character-building to ethics, to finding the right space to have your play produced. For such a slim book, it covers an immense amount of ground. It’s really a must-have in a playwright’s arsenal.

 

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Finally, one of the most helpful books I’ve found for writing advice and great exercises isn’t about writing for the theatre. Old Friend from Far Away, by Natalie Goldberg, is about memoir writing. But for getting (or regaining) story ideas, it’s priceless. It’s a mix of writing advice and exercises that can be as simple as writing for ten minutes about doing the dishes or your mother’s jewelry to three minute ‘sprints’ about cantaloupe and pillow. All of the exercises are timed, which I love because then I have a deadline. I’m a writer who needs deadlines. Goldberg’s premise is that writing is an active sport, that needs daily practice. And within her pages is plenty of inspiration to get those words flowing.

What are your favorite writing advice books?

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