How fitting that today, the 522nd anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World, I share with you my recent discovery, thanks to my writer Bridget Conway of Camden, Maine – NAMING THE WORLD (and other EXERCISES for the CREATIVE WRITER), edited by Bret Anthony Johnston (Random House, 2007).
Johnston writes in his introduction that “much of the writer’s work must be – can only be – accomplished by doggedly venturing into territories unknown, by risking failure with every word. His purpose in gathering writing exercises from well-respected authors was “to create an environment in which each writer feels invited and prepared to take such risks.”
Like all discoveries, this collection of focused and insightful writing exercises widened my eyes, raised my eyebrows and had my brain whirling in record time.
Indeed, Betsy Lerner, author of another favorite resource of mine – THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: AN EDITOR’S ADVICE TO WRITERS (Riverhead, 2000) describes NAMING THE WORLD as “the equivalent of a master class in writing by some of the best writers/teachers around.”
What I especially like about NAMING THE WORLD is Johnston’s organization: 8 sections, 7 of which focus on a key element of fiction. Each section begins with relevant perceptive quotes by well-known writers, then offers an overview of the particular element. Chosen authors’ understandable, doable exercises follow, exercises designed to “demystify the common and complex mechanisms by which the specific element operates.”
Getting Started exercises and Daily Warm-ups bookend the sections which focus on:
· Point of view and tone
· Plot and narrative
· Dialogue and voice
· Descriptive language and setting
I loved reading how some of my favorite authors, including Joyce Carol Oates, Elizabeth Strout, Elizabeth McCracken and Richard Bausch, hone their craft.
I also loved discovering authors heretofore unknown to me.Be sure to check back on Wednesday for Paul Lisicky’s exercise on the rhythm of language.
(His award-winning book THE BURNING HOUSE is currently on reserve at my Chicago Public Library.)
I’m happy to report my Newberry Library Picture Book Writing Workshop students this semester are also enjoying the exercises, completing one per week.
Explorers such as Columbus looked to the stars to help find their way. With that thought in mind, I hereby declare NAMING THE STARS stellar, as in *****-worthy. The collection of exercises is certain to help writers discover their stories and how best to tell them.
In celebration of Signor Columbus’ 1492 New World landing, Happy Discovering!