After my rant yesterday about all the formatting in The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop by Stephen Koch, a thoughtful and considerate reader thought I overreacted and that there is a tremendous amount of good material in the book. While I still do think the formatting and emphasis on emphasis is overkill, the reader’s polite comment did remind me that there are some very good points in this book. I didn’t mention them as the froth and spittle was flying from my mouth while I wrote the post, but there are indeed some “get-cracking” quotes worth remembering. Here are a couple that I noted during my read of the book.
Koch addresses one of my biggest pet-peeves, would-be writers who don’t read, and he points out the foolishness of that attitude:
Frankly, there is something suspect–even bewildering–in the nonreader who claims she or he wants to write. Do you really want to play baseball if you hate watching the game? “If I had a nickel,” says Stephen King, “for every person who told me he/she wanted to become a writer but ‘didn’t have time to read,’ I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.
Koch also provides quotes that point out the inherent failure of the non-starter writer:
Paul Johnson is right: “A bad novel is better than an unwritten novel, because a bad novel can be improved; an unwritten novel is defeat without a battle.
Chris Batty’s No Plot? No Problem: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days features a lengthy discussion on getting rid of your inner-editor, that voice inside your head that makes you want to revise every word you write, that makes you think your first draft must be magnificent, and that you’re a failure if you don’t break literary new-ground with every keystroke. Koch shares this philosophy and advocates speed in the first draft. He writes:
Russell Banks sees yet another advantage: “From the beginning I’ve found that I have to sneak past the internal censor who basically wants me to shut up and be silent, and the best way for me to get something said has been to move real fast. The faster I write, the more likely I’ll get something worth saving down…”
So, it should be said that there are indeed some real gems in this book. I still shudder to think what would happen if a freshman Comp 101 student turned in a sentence that contained the use of one paranthesis, an em dash, three quotes and some brackets, but I do appreciate the reader’s opinion. Other readers agree with my criticisms, and that’s what makes literature interesting.
At the risk of sounding sappy, I do want to mention how I appreciate the articulate nature of both viewpoints, as opposed to the “you suck” and “yeah, well, you must have a tiny penis if you think that!” nature of comments that plague many websites.