A teaching mentor during a MFA program once wrote to me, in calm response to my own bewildered longing for time:
“One has plenty of opportunities during the day to write.”
I wondered, at the time, what on God’s green earth he was talking about.
This lady is my people. I would have uttered the same words…well, mine would have probably included cuss words, but Frank is classier than I am.
Though I read them, I am not a huge fan of books on writing. They tend to fall into two categories-ones that I cannot relate to and ones that make me feel dumb.
Some books on writing are startlingly beautiful; they capture the art and process so succinctly that your fingers just ache to get to a keyboard or a pen and write something, ANYTHING. It’s just when you get to that paper or laptop that you realize you don’t have that kind of talent. Not that you don’t have talent at all, but you don’t have that author’s talent. Their tales of sitting on a dock, surrounded by the raw beauty of a quiet lakeside, scribbling out the words that live in the spaces between their heartbeat…well, that’s lovely, but I’m in my living room with a basket of laundry that I’ve been meaning to do for six hours now to my left and to my right is a bored baby in a bouncy chair who is only going to be distracted for five more minutes by the bib I let him gnaw on. And even if I had the lake setting, the tales that live in-between my heartbeats are snarky and sprinkled lovingly with f-bombs. Those books may inspire others, but they mostly depress me and remind me of my inadequacy.
The other type contains books that boil writing down to a formula or a simple process. Get on the stick, women, just WRITE! It’s SO easy, you should be doing it, stop whining, those who cannot do just complain about it, OMG, STOP SUCKING AND JUST DO IT. Those books give me hives. They may motivate, but something in there smacks of dishonesty. I mean, really? You’ve been writing for 30 years, you’ve written two novels and you’re going to tell me that writing is EASY? It might be easy for you, but you’ve been doing it for a lot longer, mister, so ease up, huh?
Then there are the emails I get from writing websites that scream at me thrice daily: Do THIS, and you will create. Have THAT program and this books over HERE and you’ll knock out a novel in no time! Go to this retreat, join that group, enter this contest and how’s about you buy tickets to this conference AND this eighteen volume set of how-to books plus the bonus DVD?!? It makes me feel dirty, these groups that treat writing with the same marketing zeal that is given to a Slap-Chop, but I still don’t unsubscribe… (What if they offer up the magic solution and I don’t have my $79.95 ready?!?)
Because You Have To lives in a happy little place in between the two types of writing books and avoids the skids of shrill marketing. It is real enough to be helpful, but not so glib that you can’t take it seriously. I think this might be one of the few books on writing that not only inspired me, but also motivated me.
Part memoir, part handbook, part survey of the contemporary literary scene, Because You Have To: A Writing Life is a collection of essays that, taken together, provide a walking tour of the writing life.
Original, witty, and practical, Because You Have To ably steers us through the journey of Frank’s own life as a writer, as well as through the careers and work of other writers. Subjects range from the “boot camp” conditioning of marketing work to squaring off with rejection and envy; from sustaining belief in art’s necessity to the baffling subjectivity of literary perception—and the magical books that nourish writers.
Frank not only covers writing but also reading, marketing, rejection; all with a thoughtful yet practical tone. Her tale of scrambling to find time to write hit home, especially when she talks of working front desks and frantically hiding her writing when tell-tale footsteps echo down the hall. (Hello, me in 2004-2007.) Her essay, “The More We Typed, the Better We Felt,” might be my favorite; a tale of the folly of letting self-righteousness take over reason—anyone who’s ever shaken their fist at this type of injustice will relate.
Because You Have To is equal parts thoughtful and practical; Frank respectful to the art of writing but also admits that this sh*t is hard, rejection is tough, the writing life can be lonely and dammit, yet we still write. If the lofty book on writing is an expensive writer’s salon with wine and a guest speaker — and the quick-fix tome on being an author is a loud happy hour in a bar with that guy who keeps telling you exactly how to do what you’re already doing—Because You Have To is a three hour conversation over coffee and pastries that you bring notepad and pen to take notes on, but never write down a word. The book is best read in spurts, but mostly so that you can let Frank’s words settle into your mind and see what they inspire. I highly recommend the book, and I’d even lend you my copy if I hadn’t already written in it and dog-eared the pages.
Yet again, a big thank you to TLC Book Tours. Like to read books and give opinions? (Who doesn’t?!?) Check out the other reviews of Because You Have To and read about hosting your own awesome book tour!