I’ve been sitting on this review for a while since I’ve been sitting on this book for a while. It’s the last book I don’t have packed up and ready to move, and I’m sorry to say that it won’t be joining me at my next place.
Let me explain: I have a complicated history with craft books, as far as writing is concerned. Back when I started thinking that I wanted to write, and that maybe it was what I would want to do with my life (so, in middle school), I bought a lot of writing guides. This was before writing workshops were available to me–though they would be later–and when I’d go to the bookstore, I’d usually come out with at least two novels and…a book about writing.
I think of all of those books on writing, the only one I’m keeping after all these years is one about writing horror.
When it came time to request another book from Blogging for Books, I thought, hell, I might as well ask for “Story Genius” by Lisa Cron. She knows what she’s talking about and that’s pretty clear once you pick up the book, but something rubbed me the wrong way starting off, and I guess it comes down to something like this.
There is nobody who has not had to work at their craft, regardless of how “innately gifted” they might be at writing. Nobody. She cites the “myth” of the shitty first draft, and says that it’s a shame that innately talented writers are typically the ones who teach creative writing courses and workshops, and I don’t think that’s necessarily fair. This is another book from Blogging for Books that I’ve gotten that I haven’t particularly liked, and while normally I tend to flip through any writing advice books so that I can pick and choose what works for me, I didn’t feel a particular desire to do so here.
Even people who are good at what they do starting off (though, let’s be honest, if anyone’s telling a story, they need to be taught what a story is in the first place) work at their skills. An old maxim that came from my band instructors from 5th through 10th grade was, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Yes, it helps to have someone to show you how to craft a story. No, E.L. James isn’t a good writer. Yes, it is probably easier to write a story if you’re good at it–these are all things that I agree with when Cron says them–but (and to use her own early example of Doctrow, who she refers to as a “natural storyteller”) saying that someone is good at something mainly because of their natural talent kind of negates the fact that they more likely than not have put countless hours into their craft. Writers can be liars whose job it is to convince you that what they have done is easy, but in reality, it takes hours and–in the case of contemporary writers like Donna Tartt–even years to really create the story that wants to be told.
Perhaps the biggest reason why this book isn’t so useful to me is that I am not a novelist–nor do I think I want to be one. I write short stories, and I prefer writing them. Her advice is geared more towards people who are writing longer works by teaching those people how to actually get their story in order. There are some frequently used phrases (“Here’s the skinny”) that stick out as a little agitating to me personally, and I do not think this the craft book for me. That said, I won’t say that she doesn’t offer good advice. Cron does know the logistics of making the story come out and work, and if you need a teacher in that respect, she’s probably your go-to person.
Unfortunately for me, however, the presentation of a workshop in book-form doesn’t work as well.
You can find more about “Story Genius” and Lisa Cron on her website, Wiredforstory.com