Tag Archives: non-fiction writing

THE WRITER’S PORTABLE MENTOR BY PRISCILLA LONG – A REVIEW

longI own about 300 books on writing, including the much-touted “On Writing” by Stephen King, but “The Writer’s Portable Mentor” by Priscilla Long is the single book that belongs on every writer’s bookshelf. While Natalie Goldberg, Stephen King, and Julia Cameron talk about the head-stuff of writing, Priscilla Long talks about the actual nuts and bolts that are required in a writer’s toolbox. There are no gimmicks in her book either. This is a practical text-book, if you will, about how to become a craftsman. After all, that’s what a writer should aim to be – a craftsman. It’s suitable for the novice writer and the advanced writer because the skills that Long suggests writers need are applicable at whatever stage a writer happens to be at.

 

Long discusses the importance of reading, and while all readers read, virtuoso writers re-read. Long guides readers through reading to develop craft. It is only when we learn to dismantle great stories that we find the tools that will develop our own stories. Long’s style is accessible and the advice she offers is practical and enormously helpful.

 

The importance of grammar is given an ample amount of attention. Sentence types are elucidated upon to improve a writer’s range of skill in sentence structure. The importance of metaphor and simile are explained. Long has a knack of making the reader want to immediately pick up a pen and start practicing. Which brings me to practice.

 

Long promotes writing practice, after all, writers write, and Long suggests keeping a writing practice notebook where all that practice takes place. That’s nothing new, you say. You’re right, it isn’t new. Dorothea Brande promoted practice pages/morning pages in the 1930s, long before Julia Cameron came along with The Artist’s Way. What is new, is that Long doesn’t want the writing practice sessions to stay in the notebook, she wants them to be purposeful at the outset, and then for them to be transcribed into the appropriate project at the end of the writing session. Long encourages writers not only to write, but to write with the intention of publication, and her proposed strategy elevates the practice of writing practice.

 

The Writer’s Portable Mentor is one of those books you won’t take off your desk. When you’re stuck, you’ll return to it again and again to seek out one of Long’s practical suggestions to assist you. If you read only one book on writing craft, this should be it.

 

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You Know You’re a Travelwriter when…

You only pack two pairs of shoes. Practical granny-style shoes and one pair of sexy sandals to remind you that you’re a woman instead of an automaton.

Your bathroom at home has miniature-sized everything – shampoo, body lotion, soap.

You spend half an hour going through your dressing table at home trying to find the room service menu.

You speak in hushed tones when you walk down your passage at home.

You ask your housekeeper what else is on the menu for dinner.

You forget you have a car parked in the garage and phone for a taxi.

You dial 9 hoping to book an early wake-up call.

Every inch in your handbag is accounted for.

You go to the bookshop and head straight for the travel guides.

The rotator cuffs in your shoulder are stuffed from lugging heavy wheelie bags through airports.

Roam on / Roam off is no. 2 on the speed dial of your mobile phone.

The constant concern in your life is how many pages you have got left in your passport for foreign visa requirements.

You wear three watches – New York, London, Johannesburg.

Your wallet carries US Dollars, Egyptian Pounds, Euros and Thai Baht, but you have no Rands to pay the local car-guard.

You phone your friends and they say, “Isabella who? God, I thought you’d fallen off the face of the earth!”

Resolving to Write

j0439412New years are notorious for setting up people for failure, and writers are no different. A new year is a blank canvas waiting for you to fill in the colours of your aspirations, but it is easy to get carried away. With eagerness you allow the colours to swirl into each other so that instead of having a clear picture of what you’re hoping for, you end up with a chaotic picture full of muddy colours that have bled out your pure intentions.
There are a myriad of resources to consult in order to design a writing plan and books such as Maisel’s Coaching the Artist Within and Jurgen Wolff’s Your Writing Coach can also get you upright at your desk with ideas about how to best approach this business of writing. But there are some basics that you don’t need a book to tell you about. Trust me, this I know after years and years of making plans, or should I say, setting up the traps of self-sabotage.
Firstly, spend some time thinking about what you want to achieve as a writer. Do you want to be a novelist or a environmental journalist? You need to have your mind firmly set as to what it is you want to achieve. To establish a career as a writer, you can’t be a jack-of-all-trades. Case in point: I decided to go to the Richmond Book Fair. I approached a local newspaper to do an article on the fair, but the books editor didn’t want a general piece on the fair, she wanted a review on one of the books being launched at the fair. Interviewing the writer and going to the launch took all my energy away from the fair itself, and it took another two to three weeks of reading the book and writing the review. I am not a review writer, I don’t want to be one, I shouldn’t have agreed to do it! The review was okay, even if the editor didn’t like it, and yet it was a colossal waste of time and energy. Time and energy that would have been put to much better use at the writing projects that I’m committed to and passionate about.
Secondly, take some time to plan out blocks of time to devote to the writing projects that you’ve chosen to do. If you are aware of deadline dates for short story competitions or for novel chapters, then you’ve got an idea of the amount of time you need to allocate to achieving each one of the projects.
Thirdly, don’t set yourself up for failure. If you’re writing erotic science-fiction short stories, don’t send them to You magazine for consideration. Don’t send a non-fiction book proposal to a poetry publisher. You must identify your markets so that your writing has the best chance of succeeding. Also, don’t over-extend yourself. If you’re a part-time writer, then your output is going to be considerably less than a full-time writer, so try not to be over-ambitious. Be realistic – the amount of time you have will usually determine how much you can achieve.
Fourthly, write. I am amazed at how many people consider themselves to be writers, but don’t actually write. They either read about writing or they have ideas in their heads! Neither will get you published. To be a writer you have to write – I believe every day, but you may disagree. However, if you’re not putting words on a page you cannot be a writer. Writers write, it’s that simple. And the more you write, the easier it gets.
Finally, if you don’t have the luxury of being able to share your writing with anyone, invest in Peter Elbow’s book, Writing without Teachers.