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About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, and Five Interviews Paperback – 4 Jan 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press (4 Jan. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0819567167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0819567161
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 12.9 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 788,871 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


..". should go on the short list of required reading for every would-be writer."--New York Times Book Review (on "Of Doubts and Dreams" in About Writing)

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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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By DM SHERWOOD on 7 Aug. 2014
Format: Paperback
Wise Words
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 14 reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
An amazing, difficult, worth it writing book 7 Mar. 2006
By KTB - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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
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
A great reference tool for the serious writer 28 Nov. 2008
By Jubei K. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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
Strongly recommended to all literature enthusiasts, readers, writers, and students 4 April 2006
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Dense But Worth the Effort 4 July 2013
By clahain - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I will admit that I am not a regular reader of science fiction, and I have not read anything else by Samuel R. Delany. I enjoyed an excerpt of ABOUT WRITING in the online magazine BRAINPICKINGS and decided to check it out. It turned out to be a strange mix of writing advice, literary criticism, and academic argument.

The essays and the letters are interesting and enjoyable. Though long-winded and (at times) rather elitist in tone, they offer considerable insight into the difference between wanting to write and producing something that is actually worth being read. I do not necessarily agree with his premise that the democratization of writing--encouraging everyday Johns and Janes to spill their mundane guts on the page--is making life rough for "real" writers. I mean, Charles Dickens was the pulp writer of his age, and his works have survived to be loved and taught. Also, who is to say that the mediocre scribbling of Joe Normal in his private journal is of less value to the world than the polished prose of the next Pulitzer winner? What if it keeps him from hitting his wife or jumping off of a bridge before he invents a more sanitary garbage disposal? Really, what does any of us know about the ultimate value of ANYTHING we do?

The interviews are a challenge. The author doesn't seem to be able to answer a question, say, about the differences between teaching students to write mainstream and alternative fiction, without launching into a pages-long discourse on literary history and the development of personal reading tastes. This verbosity is probably due to the questions having been asked and answered in writing rather than in person or over the phone. The lesson to editors and interviewers is clear: if you want to have SOME control over your writer, DO NOT give him access to a pen or a keyboard!

In the end, though, finishing Delany's book gave me a considerable degree of pleasure. His discussion of the value and limitations of a literary canon is thought provoking and left me with a whole new reading list. He taught me the proper use of the em-dash. And, thanks to him, I will never start another story or novel with a flashback.
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