Thursday, January 29, 2009

Leonard Bishop on The Alchemy of Writing

Back in 1988, versatile writer Leonard Bishop wrote a book called Dare to be a Great Writer. It's a collection of 329 mini-essays on subjects significant to a writer, such as "Necessary Delusions" and "Never Marry Another Writer".

Here's a quote from the section called "The Alchemy of Writing" -

None of what you are writing makes sense, right? The characters have the depth of cellophane. The story staggers like a convulsive drunk. The plot line lacks logic, there is just no point in going on. Becoming a professional writer is just a delusionary dream.

Good. Now you are really into your writing. Now you are about to reach the ability you have not touched before. You are into the dark, almost arcane dimension of the writing process that no one can explain. But before you can grow as a writer, you must touch this unexplainable dimension.

This is where the character of the writer is tried.

It is in this dimension that the alchemy of writing happens. Just as the alchemists of old labored to transmute lead into gold, and could not, so the writer labors to turn tripe into treasure. The alchemist fails-- the writer succeeds.

And here's the White Flow -

All of a sudden, in time no quicker than a toad's blink, your writing changes. It is marvelous, exactly what you wanted. But why does it take this suddenness so long to happen? The reason eludes analysis, but the method of achieving it is comprehensible. It is the writer's tenacity, his persistence, his faith.

There's more that follows, well worth buying the book, or at least checking it out from the library.

The layout of the book is not perfect - in many of his example quotes, it's difficult to tell what part is a summary of what the example should be, and what part is actual demonstration of a technique. Also, I often find myself arguing with whether his technique achieves what he says it does, especially where he's demonstrating methods of head-hopping, and/or group dialogue in a single paragraph.

In any case, I highly recommend this book for beginning writers who don't know anything - read once then go practice for a year - and for intermediate writers who want some guidelines to struggle with and make their own - read, argue, decide, practice, repeat. The best feature is a handy index so you can quickly find his comments on any particular aspect of writing.

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