Writers [on Writing]: Collected Essays from The New York Times

Overview

Now in paperback, today's most celebrated writers explore literature and the literary life in an inspirational collection of original essays.

By turns poignant, hilarious, and practical, Writers on Writing brings together more than forty of contemporary literature's finest voices.

Pieces range from reflections on the daily craft of writing to the intersection of art's and life's consequential moments. Authors discuss what impels them to write: ...

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Overview

Now in paperback, today's most celebrated writers explore literature and the literary life in an inspirational collection of original essays.

By turns poignant, hilarious, and practical, Writers on Writing brings together more than forty of contemporary literature's finest voices.

Pieces range from reflections on the daily craft of writing to the intersection of art's and life's consequential moments. Authors discuss what impels them to write: creating a sense of control in a turbulent universe; bearing witness to events that would otherwise be lost in history or within the writer's soul; recapturing a fragment of time. Others praise mentors and lessons, whether from the classroom, daily circumstances, or the pages of a favorite writer. For anyone interested in the art and rewards of writing, Writers on Writing offers an uncommon and revealing view of a writer's world.

Contributors include Russell Banks, Saul Bellow, E. L. Doctorow, Richard Ford, Kent Haruf, Carl Hiaasen, Alice Hoffman, Jamaica Kincaid, Barbara Kingsolver, Sue Miller, Walter Mosley, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Carol Shields, Jane Smiley, Susan Sontag, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Alice Walker, and Elie Wiesel.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Few anthologies on the craft of writing have been so buoyant -- or so wickedly blunt. Consider, for example, the combative first words of David Memet's essay: "For the past 30 years the greatest novelists writing in English have been genre writers: John le Carre, George Higgins, and Patrick O'Brian." Or survey the literary universe of Henry Bech (a.k.a. John Updike) or the gathering digressions of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. We can't think of a better book to encourage non-writers to become writers.
From the Publisher
"The essays . . . are all unified by an overwhelming sense of generosity of spirit, of writers offering encouragement, reflection, and introspection . . ."

Kirkus Reviews

From Writers on Writing:

"In a time when everything around me seemed completely out of control, when lives were being cut short and fate seemed especially cruel, I had the need to get to an ending of something. I was desperate to know how things turned out, in fiction if not in life. More than ever, more than anything, I was a writer."—Alice Hoffman, from Writers on Writing

"The trial lawyer's job and the novelist's were, in some aspects, shockingly similar. Both involved the reconstruction of experience, usually through many voices. . . . But there the paths deviated. In this arena the universal trumped; there were no prizes for being rarefied or ahead of the times. The trial lawyer who lost the audience also inevitably lost the case."—Scott Turow, from Writers on Writing

PW
Unlike many assemblages of previously published works, this collection of 41 essays from the New York Times's "Writers on Writing" column is more than the sum of its parts. Just as Times culture editor Darnton hoped when he devised the series for writers to "talk about their craft," the result is a thoughtful examination of writers' concerns about the creative process and the place of literature in America. Appropriately for works commissioned for a major newspaper, the essays are immediately engaging and compelling all the way through.

Some writers accomplish these ends through a good story, as does Russell Banks writing on the limits of memory and his lost chance at a career in crime. Or they are darkly entertaining, as is Carolyn Chute as she talks about obstacles in trying to switch from "life mode to writer mode." Sara Paretsky compels with her Dickensian belief in the value of writing for people "who feel powerless and voiceless in the larger world." There's also the sheer comfort of recognizing known voices: the seriousness of Mary Gordon, the combativeness of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., the sting of Joyce Carol Oates.

As steeped in writing as this book is, it is not a manual: advice includes only general rules to observe well and write regularly and axioms from writers like William Saroyan, who counsels, "There is no how to it, no how do you write, no how do you live, how do you die." Overall, the writers' pensiveness and amity make for a thought-provoking yet reassuring read a good bedside book. Fans of writers-on-writing anthologies and close readers of the New York Times who may have bypassed these essays for the immediate payoff of a front-page headline should pause to enjoy this rich collection.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Unlike many assemblages of previously published works, this collection of 41 essays from the New York Times's "Writers on Writing" column is more than the sum of its parts. Just as Times culture editor Darnton hoped when he devised the series for writers to "talk about their craft," the result is a thoughtful examination of writers' concerns about the creative process and the place of literature in America. Appropriately for works commissioned for a major newspaper, the essays are immediately engaging and compelling all the way through. Some writers accomplish these ends through a good story, as does Russell Banks writing on the limits of memory and his lost chance at a career in crime. Or they are darkly entertaining, as is Carolyn Chute as she talks about obstacles in trying to switch from "life mode to writer mode." Sara Paretsky compels with her Dickensian belief in the value of writing for people "who feel powerless and voiceless in the larger world." There's also the sheer comfort of recognizing known voices: the seriousness of Mary Gordon, the combativeness of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., the sting of Joyce Carol Oates. As steeped in writing as this book is, it is not a manual: advice includes only general rules to observe well and write regularly and axioms from writers like William Saroyan, who counsels, "There is no how to it, no how do you write, no how do you live, how do you die." Overall, the writers' pensiveness and amity make for a thought-provoking yet reassuring read a good bedside book. Fans of writers-on-writing anthologies and close readers of the New York Times who may have bypassed these essays for the immediate payoff of a front-page headline should pause to enjoy this rich collection. (May 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
New York Times culture editor and novelist Darnton (Neanderthal, LJ 5/15/96) has compiled a collection of essays on authorship from the Times column of the same title. Contributors to this intimate, chatty collection range from literary icons Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut, and Alice Walker to writers who are not yet household names. Louise Erdrich chronicles her journey with language lessons in Ojibwemowin, the language of her people. Mystery writer Sara Paretsky meets a group of harried, overworked wives of laid-off Chicago steelworkers, for whom the author's V.I. Warshawski is a source of courage and honor. Here is Mary Gordon on favorite notebooks and pens and Barbara Kingsolver, wise and entertaining as always, on the sexual content of the American novel (including her own current best seller). What emerges is a sense of the mysterious way in which fiction chooses those with not merely good stories to tell but dedication to the physical act of writing itself. Readers will want to break out the special caffeine stash for this one. Recommended for most collections. Susan A. Zappia, Paradise Valley Community Coll., Phoenix Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adults/High School-Teens interested in writing fiction will find inspiration, advice, and humor in these 43 essays from the column of the same name, published in the Book Review section of the Times. Carl Hiaasen, whose many hilarious novels include Sick Puppy, describes the trouble he had killing off a bad guy who was threatening to take center stage in one of his novels. Barbara Kingsolver, author of the electrifying The Poisonwood Bible, admits to extreme discomfort in writing explicit sexual scenes, but does it anyway. Gail Godwin writes of crossing over into nonfiction, at the request of her publisher, and finding it challenging but not as difficult as she first thought. Mystery writer Walter Mosley advises, "If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day-" even if that means only reading over what you've written and thinking about it. And Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong, lovingly describes the room he writes in, and then goes on to describe writing his first draft blind, typing with a stocking cap pulled over his eyes. Teens will be familiar with some if not all of the writers in this collection, but all of these fine authors have something enlightening to say.-Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805070859
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/1/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 365,080
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

John Darnton, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the George Polk Award for his journalism, is culture editor for The New York Times and the author of two novels. He lives in New York.

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Read an Excerpt

"In a time when everything around me seemed completely out of control, when lives were being cut short and fate seemed especially cruel, I had the need to get to an ending of something. I was desperate to know how things turned out, in fiction if not in life. More than ever, more than anything, I was a writer." --Alice Hoffman, from Writers on Writing

"The trial lawyer's job and the novelist's were, in some aspects, shockingly similar. Both involved the reconstruction of experience, usually through many voices. . . . But there the paths deviated. In this arena the universal trumped; there were no prizes for being rarefied or ahead of the times. The trial lawyer who lost the audience also inevitably lost the case." --Scott Turow, from Writers on Writing
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Table of Contents

Introduction by John Darnton

A Literary Pilgrim Progresses to the Past by André Aciman

A Novelist's Vivid Memory Spins Fiction of Its Own by Russell Banks

To Engage the World More Fully, Follow a Dog by Rick Bass

Hidden Within Technology's Empire, a Republic of Letters by Saul Bellow

Pupils Glimpse an Idea, Teacher Gets a Gold Star by Anne Bernays

Characters' Weaknesses Build Fictions' Strengths by Rosellen Brown

How Can You Create Fiction When Reality Comes to Call? by Carolyn Chute

From Echoes Emerge Original Voices by Nicholas Delbanco

Quick Cuts: The Novel Follows Film into a World of Fewer Words by E. L. Doctorow

Two Languages in Mind, but Just One in the Heart by Louise Erdrich

Instant Novels? In Your Dreams! by Thomas Fleming

Goofing Off While the Muse Recharges by Richard Ford

A Novelist Breaches the Border to Nonfiction by Gail Godwin

Putting Pen to Paper, but Not Just Any Pen or Just Any Paper by Mary Gordon

To See Your Story Clearly, Start by Pulling the Wool over Your Own Eyes by Kent Haruf

Real Life, That Bizarre and Brazen Plagiarist by Carl Hiaasen

Sustained by Fiction While Facing Life's Facts by Alice Hoffman

The Enduring Commitment of a Faithful Storyteller by Maureen Howard

Inventing Life Steals Time, Living Life Begs It Back by Gish Jen

Pesky Themes Will Emerge When You're Not Looking by Diane Johnson

Sitting Down a Novelist, Getting Up a Playwright by Ward Just

Those Words That Echo . . . Echo . . . Echo Through Life by Jamaica Kincaid

A Forbidden Territory Familiar to All by Barbara Kingsolver

Summoning the Mystery and Tragedy, but in a Subterranean Way by Hans Koning

Comforting Lessons in Arranging Life's Details by David Leavitt

The Humble Genre Novel, Sometimes Full of Genius by David Mamet

She Was Blond. She Was in Trouble. And She Paid 3 Cents a Word by Ed McBain

Virtual Reality: The Perils of Seeking a Novelist's Facts in Her Fiction by Sue Miller

For Authors, Fragile Ideas Need Loving Every Day by Walter Mosley

To Invigorate Literary Mind, Start Moving Literary Feet by Joyce Carol Oates

A Storyteller Stands Where Justice Confronts Basic Human Needs by Sara Paretsky

Life of Prose and Poetry: An Inspiring Combination by Marge Piercy

Inspiration? Head Down the Back Road, and Stop for the Yard Sales by Annie Proulx

If You Invent the Story, You're the First to See How It Ends by Roxana Robinson

Once Upon a Time, Literature. Now What? by James Salter

Starting with a Tree and Finally Getting to the Death of a Brother by William Saroyan

Opting for Invention over the Injury of Invasion by Carol Shields

A Reluctant Muse Embraces His Task, and Everything Changes by Jane Smiley

Directions: Write, Read, Rewrite. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 as Needed by Susan Sontag

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An Odyssey That Started with Ulysses by Scott Turow

Questions of Character: There's No Ego as Wounded as a Wounded Alter Ego by John Updike (as Henry Bech)

Despite Tough Guys, Life Is Not the Only School for Real Novelists by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Metta to Muriel and Other Marvels: A Poets Experience of Meditation by Alice Walker

In the Castle of Indolence You Can Hear the Sound of Your Own Mind by Paul West

A Sacred Magic Can Elevate the Secular Storyteller by Elie Wiesel

Embarking Together on Solitary Journeys by Hilma Wolitzer

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2009

    A fascinating insight into the writing process and the unique differences between writers

    Overall, this was a very interesting book. For anyone interested in possibly becoming a writer of not only novels but plays or filmscripts, I would highly recommend it. There were some interesting stories of writers and how they become inspired, something many people find difficult writing about.
    Though the format is somewhat unorthodox and the content may seem to be a strange subject for a book, this collection enlightened me to what a writer goes through on a day to day basis. Originally I had believed that all authors were very haphazard, sloppily creative people, or at least that is the impression one recieves from films and ironically, novels, these essays provide the reader with multiple points of view from many different people. These various authors do not seem to follow this widely believed stereotype. Many of them seem to have very organized, mechanical minds, which is reflected in the way they write systematically or to a specific purpose. I realized that one does not have to live or be a specific way in order to pursue writing, one does not even have to be particularly creative!
    This book also revealed to me how authors feel about the decline of novel reading and the rising importance of the film industry. Different views reflect opposite opinions, but they let the reader understand both sides of the argument. For someone interested in writing for film, this is also a great book to read. Understanding how film can be literature and also how it can destroy great literature is something I wish this book had explored a little more, but it does open up this subject for discussion.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2006

    One of the best books I own!

    We had to read this book in a writing class I took in college and it has become one of my most prized possessions (that and its sequel). It provides a wonderful glimpse into the minds of some of the best writers of our day. It's a must-have for any aspiring writer!

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