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If you are as yet unfamiliar with the work of Bret Anthony Johnston, dear writer, there are two things you should know. The first is that his fiction is tight, controlled, alluring and fresh, so he knows whereof he speaks. (And if you haven't discovered him yet, I highly recommend purchasing Corpus Christi along with Naming the World; the former is a collection of Johnston's short stories.) The second is that Bret Anthony Johnston is currently one of our most vocal and devoted cheerleaders for the craft of writing. Like Ray Bradbury, Johnston is a writer's writer, someone who can become just as enthusiastic and excited about the process of writing as he can about the finished product itself.
The introduction to Naming the World begins, "I don't believe in talent... Truth be told, I'm not at all sure that writing can be taught. I am positive, though, that it can be learned. What I believe in, as a writer and a teacher, is dedication." I once heard author Douglas Clegg say, "I don't believe the great American novel will be written by a writer who is 'great'; I believe it will be written by a writer who writes." He went on to say that, as writers, the greatest obstacle we have to conquer is the self-doubt that keeps us from writing. Because after all, as tired of a cliche as it may be, practice does indeed make perfect--or close enough to perfect to publish.
For those of us, from novice to professional, whose lives are sustained by writing, Naming the World offers a buffet of appetizers, prepared by some of my favorite writers, designed to intensify our hunger for putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Johnston names dedication, stubbornness and discipline as the traits he believes will lead to writing as a vocation.Read more ›
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I'm more at an intermediate level of fiction writing (although not published yet) and found many number of exercises to be enlightening, thought provoking, and beneficial in aiding one's understanding of fiction writing. The book is probably more suited for beginners to intermediate fiction writers who require some instruction on the nuances of writing in a friendly and unintimidating tone. I have read about 2/3 of the book, skimmed through the rest, and have done a half dozen exercises and must say that I finally found a book that is tightly focused in presenting helpful writing excerises that are not bloated but to the point and fun to do. I especially liked the section on "Character Exercises".
The chapters are broken down as such: Getting Started, Characters, Point of View and Tone, Plot and Narrative, Dialogue and Voice, Descriptive Language and Setting, Revision, and Daily Warmups. Each Chapter is further broken down by several authors who offer their insight and a few exercises each on a particular aspect of fiction writing. Highly recommend.
Another highly recommended text on creative writing is "One Year to a Writing Life" by Susan M. Tiberghien.
***UPDATE*** Another great book with excellent exercises that focuses on the entire writing process is "The Dramatic Writer's Companion" by Will Dunne which surpasses both books mentioned above for its concise depth in theory, along with exercises that benefit the momentum of any writing project!!!!
It seems strange that there isn't a complete list of the contributors to this book available here on the Amazon page. Many of them are terrific writers. So, here goes: John Dufresne, Joyce Carol Oates, Christopher Castellani, Thisbe Nissen, Tom Robbins, Daniel Wallace, Rachel Cline, Lee Martin, Dan Chaon, Norma E. Cantu, Alan Cheuse, Dorothy Allison, C. Michael Curtis, Tom Barbash, Tom Bligh, Debra Spark, R.T. Smith, Kyoko Mori, Steve Almond, Ann Packer, Jason Brown, Varley O'Connor, Lee Martin, Eric Goodman, Melissa Pritchard, Julia Fierro, Michael Knight, Thane Rosenbaum, Elizabeth Strout, Paula Priamos, James Brown, Vu Tran, Susan Straight, Tom Grimes, Katherine Min, Amy Hassinger, Dan Pope, Jacob Appel, Josh Emmons, Elizabeth McCracken, Adam Johnson, Michelle Wildgen, Danielle Trussoni, Aimee Phan, Robert Boswell, Vanessa Furse Jackson, Michelle Wildgen, Nick Arvin, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Colette Sartor, Richard Bausch, Katherine Min, Robert Torres, Robert Rosenberg, Kate Myers Hanson, Jose Skinner, Michael Jayme Becerra, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Rebecca Johns, Jonathan Liebson, DeWitt Henry, Mark Winegardner, Paul Lisicky, Margot Livesey, Don Lee, John Smolens, René Steinke, Jason Brown, Holiday Reinhorn, Marlin Barton, Merrill Feitell, and Stephen D. Marlowe.
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As a fan of Bret Anthony Johnston's "Corpus Christi," and as a former student of his, I was well aware of Johnston's talent and dedication to the writing craft when I bought a copy of "Naming the World." This is a comprehensive collection from some of the most notable people in the writing field. Each writer brings to the table useful advice on a range of topics - from dialogue to plot to revision. I enjoyed reading the anecdotes that writers shared, which were followed by exercises to complete. Whether a novice or a seasoned writer, anyone interested in writing will benefit from this book. Johnston inflects his own sense of humor at the beginning of each chapter, reminding us that though writing is hard work, it can be fun too. The daily warm-ups at the end of the book are a great way to jump-start your personal writing session or a creative writing class. I teach high school writing courses, and have used some of the jump-starts as daily writing prompts for my students. Warm-ups are divided into 5-, 10- and 20-min. time lengths, meaning there's a perfect warm-up regardless of how much time you have. I have also used these warm-ups on my own when I feel burned out from the current story I am working on and need to get my creativity flowing, and I have brought along these warm-ups to the writers group that I am a part of. If you don't have time or money for a writing class, yet you want the wisdom of other writers, then this is the book for you!
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