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About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, and Five Interviews [Paperback]

Samuel R. Delany

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Book Description

4 Jan 2006
Award-winning novelist Samuel R. Delany has written a book for creative writers to place alongside E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel and Lajos Egri's Art of Dramatic Writing. Taking up specifics (When do flashbacks work, and when should you avoid them? How do you make characters both vivid and sympathetic?) and generalities (How are novels structured? How do writers establish serious literary reputations today?), Delany also examines the condition of the contemporary creative writer and how it differs from that of the writer in the years of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the high Modernists. Like a private writing tutorial, About Writing treats each topic with clarity and insight. Here is an indispensable companion for serious writers everywhere.

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"Delany has certainly spent more time thinking about the process of generating narratives--and subsequently getting the fruits of his lucubrations down on paper--than any other writer in the genre. ...Delany's latest volume in this vein (About Writing) might be his best yet... Truly, as the jacket copy boasts, this book is the next best thing to taking one of Delany's courses... (R)eaders will find many answers here to the mysteries of getting words down on a page."--Paul DiFilippo, Asimov's Science Fiction

About the Author

Samuel R. Delany has taught writers workshops for over 35 years, and has won the William Whitehead Memorial Award for a lifetime's contribution to gay and lesbian literature. He has also been recognized with both Hugo and Nebula awards, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Darkroom Black Students Collective at Harvard University. Delany is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Temple University, and lives in New York City.

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing, difficult, worth it writing book 7 Mar 2006
By KTB - Published on Amazon.com
I had the pleasure of reading this book before it reached the final draft. I have found the book almost as valuable as the teaching I recieved from the man himself. Though this is not a book for the light reader, if you give it time Delany will reveal many truths about writing and writers. Yes, it's academic, because this book is aimed at those who seek to become writers, and that is as much an academic pursuit as an artistic one. Delany won't coddle you and won't give you feel good platitudes about what it takes to be a writer. What he will give you is a solid basis for starting a writing career. It's not a pretty road to travel, and certainly not an easy one. This is an excellent roadmap.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, astringent, yet leavened with a generous humanity. 12 Jan 2006
By B. T. Conway - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Delany has one of the most penetrating minds of anyone writing in English. This book should be a first resource for anyone considering writing novels--Delany discusses it as the serious pursuit that it is. I find myself reconsidering many aspects of my own writing, and not always comfortably. I'll be a better writer for it.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great reference tool for the serious writer 28 Nov 2008
By Jubei K. - Published on Amazon.com
For writers, About Writing is a drop-everything-and-read-right-now kind of book that can be used while you're going over your outline, while you're writing a scene or a chapter, and while you're revising that scene or chapter. This is not the kind of book you'll want to wait until the end of writing to read, rather you should consider using About Writing as a reference during the process. For teachers, his Introduction, essays, and appendix could be useful tools in an intermediate to advanced fiction writing course--although not as hand outs but as points of discussion.

Do not skip the Preface or the Introduction, as both are packed with ideas on good writing versus talented writing, which will make you study each paragraph of your writing for clarity and language. Of his essays, "Some Notes for the Intermediate and Advanced Creative Writing Student" is the most inspired and inspiring. This essay is on narrative structure, but more than that, it is about breaking away from the formulaic narrative structures that can hold a novel to mediocre writing. He advocates knowing the old structure in order to revise or subvert it. He makes a point of differentiating plot and structure: "Plot exists as a synopsis that often has no correspondence to text.... Structure exists, however, only in terms of a particular text, so that to talk about it in any specificity or detail you must constantly be pointing to one part of a page or another, at these words or at those: structure is specifically the organization of various and varied textual units." (p. 144)

Of his letters, read Letter to Q--. It is a criticism of Toni Morrison's Bluest Eye, from the intention of the writer to the failure of the historical milieu to the biased discussion on intra-racial discrimination. It's a brilliant rant: "I begrudge no one his or her enjoyment of Morrison's novel. Still, I feel obliged to say: If a reader thinks this story gives an accurate or even a meaningful portrait either of the subjective lives of dark-skinned black or of light-skinned blacks, that reader knows none of us. And that goes for black readers as well as white." (p. 176)

His interviews were included because he sees them as a form of written work, because he received the questions in writing and answered them in writing. This section could have been strengthened with the interview, "Black to the Future," which discusses William Gibson's critically acclaimed and popular Cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer.

About Writing ends with an appendix on various topics, from POV to punctuation to a discussion of the axiom: write what you know. If you only read the appendix, you'd still be better off now that where you were as a writer before.

The primary strength of About Writing is the many ways Delany discusses writing from the point of view of writer, reader, a teacher, and a critic.

The primary weakness is that the package deal of Delany's experience, success, and knowledge comes with a tone that can be off-putting, a tone supported by his edict in the Preface that only serious writers should read About Writing.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Minor Delany Book 1 Feb 2008
By S. T. Sullivan - Published on Amazon.com
I am of the opinion that Samuel Delany's Dhalgren is one of the most important novels of the last forty years. It is as challenging as Gravity's Rainbow, but much more rewarding and politically complicated. And as a friend said once, it makes you feel kind of funny when you read it.

I love most of Delany's work, the essays on French theory, the memoirs on growing up black, queer and dyslexic in New York City, the science fiction, most of the gay erotica (though not even I can stomach Hogg) just about all of it really. So, when I saw this volume of his collected writings on writing, I had high hopes. I was disappointed. Delany on just about anything is an interesting, but here, I think he fell short. Good books on writing are hard to come by, beyond the technical nature of writing, there is little that can really be imparted in an essay, and especially an essay by a guy who is more comfortable with Lacan and spaceships than he is with self help talk of finding the writers voice.

That is not to say there are not some helpful tidbits in here, there are. There is some solid technical advice, and some interesting rambling about what it means to be a writer, creating worlds day in and day out. Unfortunately, though much of this I found below the usual level of Delany brilliance. If you're looking for some good Delany, instead of About Writing, read Dhalgren, Nova, Longer Views, The Motion of Light in Water and 1984
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strongly recommended to all literature enthusiasts, readers, writers, and students 4 April 2006
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, And Five Interviews by literary critic, writers workshop teacher, and world renowned science fiction author Samuel R Delany (Professor of English and Creative Writing, Temple University, Philadelphia) is an informed and informative study of the expertise necessary for a writer in any genre to become more organized, more knowledgeable, and more effective with the ultimate goal of profitable publication. As an analysis of modern and contemporary writing styles, About Writing informs the aspiring author of the ins and outs of technique, ideals, and styles for the most effective writing. About Writing is very strongly recommended to all literature enthusiasts, readers, writers, and students.
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