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Not a bad book, but...
on 20 August 2007
I bought this book on the strength of the reviews given here, and as such I have to offer an alternative view of this book than that which has been portrayed so far.
This book is *not* a bad book, it just meets none of the expectations I was led to believe it contained, which I felt was worth mentioning in case others are looking for similar.
From the description, and reviews so far, I expected this to be a course on creative writing which I could study alone in my own time. It is not, except in the loosest sense. For me, this book is more suited as material for someone who wishes to create their own local creative writing group, rather than an individual that wants a progressive series of exercises to follow - the focus is significantly towards group work:
"Try the following exercise either yourself or in a group." (Which it then goes on to add, "This exercise is especially effective in class because...".)
"Have the workshop participants read out their hundred-word stories..."
"Now choose just one of the stories the class has..."
"But a favourite group exercise in this area..."
There are, however, exercises which individuals can do, but I never had the feeling of being addressed as a reader or participant, and the exercises seemed to be difficult to work out when I was actually supposed to do something. This tended to be due to the text describing the exercise to be performed, rather than `giving' me the exercise to do:
"The following exercises are intended to free up the memory and imagination. And to put the writer in closer touch with her or his own self.
1. Shut your eyes and put yourself back in a childhood bedroom. Spend some time there remembering the wallpaper, .... When you are ready, write about it in as minutely detailed a way as you are able....
2. Now remember yourself.... Write about yourself from the pen of the six-year-old....
The above may seen fairly direct as it tells you in each point to `write', but the narrative paragraph directly following the numbered exercises says...
"Put a time limit on each exercise. They should all be done quite quickly. At the most thirty minutes each. It is a liberating exercise to get students to read out their work to one another soon after writing it."
You can see that if you started the exercise as you reached it, you wouldn't get the instructions that followed them, and this is a recurring problem in that it establishes a pattern where you don't want to start the exercises when it appears you are being prompted, as there is likely to be further instructions later. This gets you used to skipping over the exercises, and the narrative never takes you back to them. (You can also see here, again, the focus on it being better as a group exercise, further leaving the impression that there will be little reward in performing them solo.)
As the previous reviewer said, and is very apt for the approach taken in this book, "useful as little thought-experiments even if you don't actually do them", because in a lot of cases you will not do what is suggested.
I could go on, but I hope I have given a flavour of the style of this book, and as I said to begin, it is not a bad book but it does have a very particular style to it. This is a common book to find in most high-street bookstores, so before you buy this book I would recommend you visit one and browse the book to see if the approach matches your own needs.