Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Robin Black's "Crash Course": Highly Recommended Craft Book!

I always like to say that one is never done learning about writing. I take advantage of many wonderful continuing ed sources: The Writer’s Chronicle, Poets & Writers, conversations with smart writer-friends, sitting in on craft lectures at residencies and conferences, the AWP conference, asking questions at readings, and, of course, craft books. I love tucking into a book that explores the writing process from a new vantage point, and so I must recommend Robin Black’s Crash Course: Essays from Where Writing and Life Collide.

It’s no surprise that I would love this book because I’m an admirer of Robin’s fiction (If I loved you, I would tell you this, her collection of short fiction, is ensconced forever on my Favorite Books Bookshelf) and I’m a tremendous fan of the online essays about writing she’s been sharing for several years. (Many have been adapted and are included in this book.) She has a smart and sensible eye for addressing writing conundrums, and the generosity with which she shares her own struggles—with writing, with life, with her “late bloomer” arrival to the writing life—is astonishing. (It’s notable that I’ve never seen a better essay on the dreaded writing jealousy than “The Success Gap.” This third rail topic that rarely is admitted, let alone addressed!)

I could go on and on, but I thought what might be more useful is to share a few of the passages I marked in my copy:

On knowing when the draft is the final draft:

            How do you know when a story is finished?...
            It took me a while to realize that the answer that I give to this question is itself an echo of the other, earlier one: I know a story isn’t finished until I can explain to myself exactly why I have made all the craft choices I have made.
            Or, to put it another way, if you plan on ending your relationship to a story and exposing it to the harsh gaze of those who didn’t write it, you had better be able to articulate to yourself why you think it’s time, because there are likely to be times when you doubt that you should have done so.

I’ll reductively label this “on plot,” though the essay covers so much more:

            Inaction [of characters], it turns out, is a strangely rich source for the imagination, a fact that I have found to be of help when I am struggling with a story that has taken on a moribund, fruitless quality…I hunt for the points of inaction that my characters might themselves later regret, those decisions that might inspire in them the rich fictions of which we are all such gifted authors when we are sorry to have chosen the safer, less active of two possible paths. 
On stepping out of one’s comfort zone:

            At some point, we probably all glimpse, even nurture, the fantasy of universal approval. But it is a better goal to evoke passion—even when it includes both extremes. On my good days, when my head is truly in the game, I would rather my work be adored by some and despised by others than that it be liked by all. That expansion of acceptable response allows me to take risks. And taking risks is the only way I can grow.

On envy:

            In my experience, envy rarely has much at all to do with what one wishes for one’s friend or colleague, and everything to do with one’s own doubts and anxieties about oneself. Maybe envy isn’t even the best word for the stomach-churning one can feel at a friends’ good news. Maybe the better word is fear.

Oh, there’s so much more! The book is divided in two sections, with the essays upfront taking on life challenges as they relate to finding one’s way as a writer, and the second half flipping the equation, focusing on the writing challenges as one works deeper into the writing life. Each essay is short and stands alone…perfect to dip into as you ease into your writing space, or to do as I did, devour in one delicious gulp of mad underlining.

Here’s more information about the book: http://enginebooks.org/Titles/CrashCourse.html

You can order the book on Amazon of course, but maybe you would like to support the small press instead? Here’s their link for orders: https://squareup.com/market/enginebooks

And here’s Robin Black’s website: http://robinblack.net/


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.