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on 13 May 2012
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Reviewed by C J Singh (Berkeley, California)

Recently, I published a review of the new edition of Jurgen Wolff's Your Writing Coach. Throughout that book, Wolff sustained an encouraging and witty tone as he does in his latest book, YOUR CREATIVE WRITING MASTERCLASS.

The masterclass book comprises six parts. In Part I, Finding Inspiration, Wolff briefly quotes several master-writers including Faulkner, Marquez, and Nabokov: for example Nabokov recommends: "You have to saturate yourself with English poetry in order to compose English prose" (page 3). Wolff concludes with "From Advice to Action" -- a recurring feature in the book that greatly enhances it: use your camera to take "interesting visual images"; "jot down snatches of overheard conversation"; and fill in the gaps of your story idea by imagining your being interviewed and answering questions about "different aspects of the story."

Part II, Characters Come to Life, cites brief selections from Austen, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Kundera, and Welty among others. Wolff advises: using a questionnaire, interview your character (pages 40-42); using Maslow's hierarchy of needs, identify your characters' needs and wants (page 47-48); identify your own dark side by listing what "bothers you most about other people" and use these traits to "humanize" your characters (page 55); "cultivate the art of discreet eavesdropping (page 76); and "integrate the description of the setting" with characterization (page 86).

Part III, Shaping the Story, begins with an exposition of various points of view. Next, whether to plan or not to plan the story: planners cited include Edgar Allan Poe, PG Wodehouse. Wolff coins a new term "spontaneists" to describe writers who don't plan and cites Edward Albee and Stephen King among them. ("Spontaneists" sounds much better than "bottom-uppers" would have been as derived from the bottom-up/top-down typology.) Among the in-betweeners, he cites Paul Auster, Michael Chabon, and Amy Tan (pages 106-107).

Part IV, Finding Your Style, begins by noting that "there are some elements on which many of the master writers agree" such as clarity, conciseness, and evocative details.

Part V, The Process, cites master-writers like Mark Twain, James Thurber, and Joyce Carol Oates on their processes of writing. On dealing with dread, Alice Munro:"In writing, I've always had a lot of confidence, mixed with dread that the confidence is entirely misplaced. I think in way that my confidence came just from being dumb" (page 215). This from one of the very best contemporary short-story writers! And here's from one of the very best screenwriters, William Goldman: "I don't know how it is for others, but building up confidence is the single hardest battle I face every day of my life" (page 214).

In Part VI, The Writing Life, Wolff advises establishing a writing routine, rationing time for surfing the internet, and concludes: "Ultimately, the writers who are the happiest are the ones find joy in the process of writing and don't make their happiness contingent on being published, getting rave reviews, or basking in adoration from the reading public" (page 260).

This book is a masterly introduction to the creative writing craft.
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on 9 February 2012
As a new writer, I was looking for a book to inspire me and had been pretty disappointed until I found this gem. Humorous, warm and intelligent (without being patronising), it's also structured. Using examples from classic novels, it shows different methods of setting the scene, choosing a starting point, developing characters and plot and creating a good ending.

Other books I've read proscribe their own unique methodologies or formulae that you MUST follow in order to succeed. What is so fantastic about this book is that it shows me how "the Greats" did it and helps me look inside myself to come up with wonderful stories unique to me. I loved that chapter on viewing the difficulties in my own life as a gold mine for material.

The chapter "Defining Your Style" was really inspiring. Quotes from famous writers illustrate differing viewpoints that helped me free myself from fear that the way I choose to write might be "wrong".

At the end of each chapter is a section "From Advice to Action" with questions and exercises to apply the advice to your own work.

Part 6 gives a load of advice that I have never seen elsewhere - how to create the life of a professional writer. This covers the subjects of where & when to write, managing money, handling criticism, handling fame and success, confidence and structuring your day-to-day routine.

This really is a brilliant book - highly recommended.

Some of the quotes I loved:
-Oscar Wilde on productivity:
"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."
-Chekhov on worry:
"You must once and for all give up being worried about success and failure. Don't let that concern you. It is your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite steadily, to be prepared for mistakes, which are inevitable, and for failures."
-CS Lewis on adjectives:
"Don't say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we have read the description. All those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to the reader "Please will you do my job for me?"."
-And Chekhov again:
"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."
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on 5 February 2012
This book has so much within its pages it's difficult to know where to start. There are inspirational, reassuring anecdotes and quotations plus real nuts and bolts advice on developing creativity within the writer (actually I think a lot of the advice translates to any creative endeavour).

I had feared it might just be a collection of other people's work but that's not the case. Examples are given but they are used to make a point. It's one of those books that you can read in just about any order, cherry picking the chapters most relevant to your needs.

As a budding and struggling writer this is one of the best books I have bought on the subject of writing. It's up there with Stephen King's 'On Writing' and Dorothea Brande's 'Becoming a Writer'. If you want to write, do write and want to be published, or are someone who enjoys reading, this book will bring you pleasure and also provide valuable insight into the writing process - soup to nuts.

Highly recommended.
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on 27 March 2012
An excellent collation of the advice of classic and contemporary writers, with Jurgen Wolff's comments too. Extremely useful for both beginning writers as well as those with some experience. If you write, or even if you're simply interested in the views of published writers, buy it!
I also highly recommend Jurgen's 'Your Writing Coach' and 'Creativity Now'.
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on 1 September 2015
This book is all you need to know when you are writing. It is perfect. I am so happy I ordered it. It covers things we discussed in the writing group and even more for less money than I paid for the group. And it is with me so I can always check something I forgot.
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on 12 February 2012
This is a very user-friendly, hands-on book. And what a relief to find that, unlike so many other writing manuals out there, this one's got no mushy theories or magic formulae on how to write a bestseller/blockbuster. The underlying message is that there is no magic formula, no right way to write - every great writer has/had their own individual process and so at the end of the day the only right way to write is YOUR way to write.
Not only is this book full of practical advice on the process of writing novels, short stories or screenplays - it's also an excellent tool for planning and teaching a creative writing class.
The choice of writers used as examples is very broad, ranging from novelists like Hemingway to sci-fi master Ray Badbury to screenwriter Paul Schrader.
The chapters are short, bite-sized, but rich in detail and with practical exercises to get you writing and to keep you writing.
The margins are filled with mini-biographies and caricatures (drawn by the author himself) of all the writers cited .
A great book. My advice - order two copies, because this is a book you'll be dipping into so often, you'll need one in reserve for when the first one gets get dog-eared.
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on 8 February 2012
What's great about this book is there's no theory - it's all about the practice of writing and built around the words and experiences of well-known writers. They all faced issues every writer can identify with - getting inspired, getting started, developing characters and plots, finding a voice, keeping going, re-writing and polishing - and you hear from them how they approached these issues and overcame. It's a great format, easy to read, reassuring and instantly inspiring.
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on 29 April 2013
I personally found it hard-going and the various quotes and pieces from famous writers didn't feel relevant.
I don't think I took anything away from this book, sadly, although it isn't badly written by any means. Its just there are better out there (and for less too)
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on 1 March 2012
Your Creative Writing Masterclass isn't a gem of a book, it's a huge diamond of one. Invest in your writing career and buy this book for yourself.
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on 7 January 2013
Very difficult to put down. In fact, I read it in one thoroughly enjoyable session. This is a rare book that anyone whose heart is in writing, especially novels, will return to, with the feeling of being close in soul to those born to write.
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