Thursday, May 16, 2013

Progressive Book Club



How To Write Good
Progressive Book Club #4: How to Write Good, by John Vorhaus


On the last page of How to Write Good, John Vorhaus gives us the three things he thinks we should take away from his book.  But long before that I had my number one choice for the catchphrase that's going up on my wall, my fridge, my computer, and (ideally) my spouse: Procrastinate Later.  It will go right below Don't make liars of those kids.

You have no idea how tempted I am to stop right there with this review/discussion.  I really don't need anything more!  But the book has more, lots more that you'd expect from 101 small pages.

First, what is Vorhaus doing with the grammatically offensive title?  Well, for one thing, he made you look, didn't he?  He doesn't talk about that, just about the way he's conveying a sense of whimsy that will attract the right kind of readers.  I thought about the way he makes a writer look at his book a second time, because what kind of guy would title a book on writing How to Write Good instead of How to Write Well?  But see?  Totally different book.  That one would be about spelling and punctuation.  This one is about getting words on paper, and recognizing that even though many (most) will be drivel, the only way to get to the ones that aren't drivel is to keep writing.  That, of course, ties back to my new motto, Procrastinate Later.  And I'm taking that advice, because I just finished the book this minute, and I'm pretty trashed after the longest bike ride since my foot surgery in January, but I decided that I should write this post while the book is fresh.  (Reaches over and slaps the book.  Don't get fresh with me!).

Okay, as you can see, whimsy works for me.  But there's more to the book than that.  For one thing, Vorhaus particularly gives the brand new writer (would-be writer) what she needs to get going.   I'm not that brand-new, but his understanding of the process is still helpful.  He includes exercises, some of which I'll try (I won't be writing a 10,000-word work to show myself I can, because I've already shown myself I can write 40,000-word kids' books and an 80,000-word mystery).  But I'll be thinking about pivots, and messing around with writing a "story" that's just a page of pivots.  That's helpful.  So are those three bits of advice highlighted on the last page:
Have a theme (know what you are writing and why)
Serve the work (as opposed to serving your ego, which is pretty much a dead-end street)
Keep giving them you until you is what they want.  I take this one to be a reminder that I am me, and no amount of faking it is going to make me J. K. Rowling or John Steinbeck.  And that I wouldn't want to be,  because me is pretty good anyway.

Thanks, John.  I needed that.

12 comments:

  1. Great wrap-up, Rebecca! I forgot to mention Procrastinate Later, which is my new mantra, too. And the pivot points! Yes!

    I bought this on Kindle, but am going to get the hard copy, too. I'm just more comfortable holding the book in my hands and being able to write in it, flip through it, know better where things are, and use it for reference that way. This was my first book using the e-reader, and when writing about it, I missed that physical luxury.

    Didn't this tiny book have so many winning points? I really liked it.

    M.L. Swift, Writer

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    1. Yes. I plan to go back and mark it up, put in my post-its, and make it something I can turn to when I need a kick in the. . . er, a boost.

      I'm with you--I like the e-reader for novels just fine, but it gets harder with non-fiction, where I often need to flip around to review something I forgot, look at maps on other pages, etc.

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  2. You know I passed on this month's PBC because life just got a wee bit hectic this past month, but I see I'm going to have to succumb and order this sucker. You and Mike have made it sound like just the kind of craft book I love to read.

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    1. This was a good book for a hectic month (good thing, too--this is the time of year when I go from pleasantly busy to totally insane). You could pretty much read the whole thing in the bathtub while locking the family out.

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  3. I kind of reflected on that 'Procrastinate Later' statement. It should be my rally cry. I really identified with the whimsy he talked about. It is what I want to do better because I can get stuck in my head trying to make stuff work instead of just creating. Great post.

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    1. I embrace whimsy. It goes well with my often inconvenient sense of humor.

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  4. I really enjoyed your post Rebecca. I have visions of you embracing whimsy now lol. Hope your having a great book week. Cheers Julie Grasso

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    1. Given my fondness for Dorothy Sayers, if I weren't happily married I'd happily embrace Wimsey (Lord Peter, that is) ;)

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  5. Hm. Procrastinate later. Please would you put it in your Goodreads quotes sometime so I can 'like' it? It doesn't have to be right now, of course. I won't like it just yet. I've got too many things I've been putting off that I must do first. You know, all the things I don't do because I want to be writing.. or blogging...
    Great post - as usual :)

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    1. LOL! I hadn't thought of that, but of course I'll out it in my GR quotes. . . Just as soon as I get around to it!

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  6. Yes, I really like that- procrastinate later!

    I've taken a shine to the third one he highlighted on the last page. I haven't thought much about voice for a while and reading this book brought that out a lot. I used to worry about an authentic or unique voice but I don't anymore. I agree- being you (or me or another writer) is pretty darn good and irreplaceable, really.

    Great review of this book! :)

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    1. Yeah. I honestly think that the reason the Ninja Librarian worked for me is that I wasn't thinking about writing for anyone but me and my pals at work, until I was about 2/3 done and began to realize that all those stories were becoming a book. So it was all about me.

      That said, the bit I didn't discuss, about thinking about what serves the writing vs. what serves the ego. . . yeah, I need to hear that, too.

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