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The Modern Library Writer's Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction (Modern Library Paperbacks) [Kindle Edition]

Stephen Koch
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $11.48
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

“Make [your] characters want something right away—even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.” —Kurt Vonnegut

“‘The cat sat on the mat’ is not the beginning of a story, but ‘the cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is.” —John Le Carré

Nothing is more inspiring for a beginning writer than listening to masters of the craft talk about the writing life. But if you can’t get Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, and Gabriel García Márquez together at the Algonquin, The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop gives you the next best thing. Stephen Koch, former chair of Columbia University’s graduate creative writing program, presents a unique guide to the craft of fiction. Along with his own lucid observations and commonsense techniques, he weaves together wisdom, advice, and inspiring commentary from some of our greatest writers. Taking you from the moment of inspiration (keep a notebook with you at all times), to writing a first draft (do it quickly! you can always revise later), to figuring out a plot (plot always serves the story, not vice versa), Koch is a benevolent mentor, glad to dispense sound advice when you need it most. The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop belongs on every writer’s shelf, to be picked up and pored over for those moments when the muse needs a little help finding her way.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

There's no shortage of writing guides available, but Koch's is especially valuable as it collects the comments and thoughts of such writers as Anthony Trollope, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Stephen King, in addition to his own sage advice. Koch, who taught at Columbia University's writing program, divides his book into the stages of the writing process. "Begin right now," he urges his readers. He goes over the basics, such as the importance of reading, the difficulty of finding time to write, and the importance of plot, with the added bonus of backing quotes from writers who have been around the block and found success. Learning that Toni Morrison, too, had to balance work and writing, or that Ray Bradbury writes six or seven drafts of each of his stories, is bound to buoy struggling writers. One thing he avoids is talking about the difficulties of a writer's life--a student sagely advised him to leave that to everyone else. Koch's tone is both encouraging and forthright, and his accessible, friendly guide will be essential for aspiring writers. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


“An extraordinarily comprehensive and practical work by a master craftsman and a master analyst of the craft.” —Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls’ Rising and Anything Goes

“Stephen Koch was my teacher long ago. Now he is everyone’s teacher, indelibly. This is a book not just for the beginning writer but for every writer.” —Martha McPhee, author of the National Book Award nominee Gorgeous Lies

The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop is a treasure trove of wisdom, both immensely practical and philosophical, entertaining and thought-provoking. Koch takes us inside the writing process, and it is impossible not to emerge transformed.” —Joanna Hershon, author of Swimming

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • File Size: 398 KB
  • Print Length: 274 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0375755586
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Modern Library Pbk. Ed edition (May 14, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0029732JS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #215,232 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books on craft November 3, 2005
It's unfortunate that this book is saddled with such an ugly title. It is an excellent tour of all aspects of the craft, and covers the process of revision--and stages of drafts--in considerable depth.

Stephen Koch is a respected author and also an admired teacher (nearly 30 years of teaching creative writing at Columbia and Princeton), and a number of his students have gone on to brilliant literary careers.

Some people scoff at the idea--which Koch supports--that stories are discovered during the writing process. Writers from William Faulkner to Stephen King to Martin Amis (and I bet you've never seen those three in a sentence together before) all claim exactly that--stories are discovered, not planned out like the construction of a cabinet.

Don't pick up this book if you're looking for exercises or assignments. I've taken novel workshops from three accomplished novelists, and none of them focused on 'exercises or assignments.' We were told to go write our books, and then bring in chapters for critiques. In this sense, what Koch has written here is pretty close to how a workshop approaches the problem of building a novel.

For those who want them, there are plenty of books out there with connect-the-dots instructions, and tons of annoying (to me) exercises. The only one I can recommned is Brian Kiteley's "The 3 am Epiphany." I didn't do any of the exercises--I save my writing for writing--but they are clever and stimulating to read.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Writing Books I've Read April 22, 2004
As a professional writer for over 25 years, I've read many writing books. The Modern Library Writer's Workshop by Stephen Koch is one of the best I've read. Although the subtitle of the book is A Guide to the Craft of Fiction, this is a book every writer who is serious about writing needs to read. Story is a critical element of nonfiction as well as fiction. Unlike many how-to-write authors, Koch avoids taking the superficial, fill-in-the blank approach. His chapters include Beginnings, The Writing Life, Shaping the Story, Making Characters Live, Inventing Your Style, the Story of the Self, Working and Reworking, and Finishing. The pages of this book are filled with ideas that helped me to look at my writing with new insight. If you can afford only one writing book, this is the one to buy.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is one of the best books on writing I've ever read. I highly recommend it. I'd give it 10 stars if I had the option.
What another reviewer states, as "name-dropping" is actually research. Anyone who has ever written a term paper knows this. In order for the writer, Stephen Koch to include all of the facts and quotes, he had to find them. I thank him for writing this book and for doing all the research required to take it to a higher level. As the back cover states, " If you can't get Vladimir Nabakov, Virginia Wolfe, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez together, The Modern Library Writer's Workshop gives you the next best thing." The quotes from great writers are inspiring. They bring the writers alive.
Like notes from a great writing workshop, I'll continue to re-read this book. This is definitely one book I'll keep accessible on my desk.
If you are interested in other books on writing, I suggest Natalie Goldberg's Writing down the Bones.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book of great usefulness October 20, 2003
I am one of those people who has been writing things for years but never got serious enough to write an actual story. Well, recently I got serious enough. I checked out a stack of writing books from the library as well as pulled out what I already had at home. There was a lot of good advice in these books. But Koch's book described the inner problems I had that were preventing me from progressing, and did so consistenly. It's one of those books that you read and find yourself nodding in agreement as a grin spreads across your face. This book has done more for me in a shorter period of time than any other writing book I've read. My weaknesses were exposed as a common problem of would-be writers, not something wrong with me alone. Though there is no magic formula (and Koch offers none) to apply it's good to know that if you apply yourself diligently enough there is no reason why you can't write that great piece.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good buy for the serious beginner May 13, 2007
You will find, when you start shopping for books on fiction writing craft, that there are many of them. Most are well-intentioned but you will only read them once and the verdict will be: "Thanks for sharing."

Stephen Koch's title is one that many working authors of my acquaintance dip into frequently. It is a motivational work as much as a writing guide, but don't underestimate the value of such a cattle prod, especially if you can't quite find your way into your masterpiece or you are trying to develop your writing as a beginnner.

Perhaps more than people in highly structured occupations, authors can fall prey to procrastination, fruitless self-questioning, and creative blanks. Author, Stephen Koch comes at his subject from the position that a writer writes and that a story reveals itself as the writers works on it. After more than twenty years as an editor and fiction author, I am inclined to agree with him. I have found that his small volume delivers some thoroughly practical advice while at the same time prompting the writer to get on with the process of writing.

Throughout the book, Koch offers quotes about the craft from notable authors. Some people seem to find these inspiring and interesting, and believe they can learn something from accomplished peers. A few I've spoken with do not welcome this content and wish Koch had focused more on craft methodologies.

While he covers various bases, it's certainly true that other guides will offer a much more thorough technical treatment of character, narrative, plot etc. Yet, writing is not all about a "correct formula". One of the most helpful aspects of Koch's approach is that of mentoring.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars although quite tedious to get through
It's okay, although quite tedious to get through.
Published 3 months ago by Precious
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended
Excellent guide for writers used by a successful author friend of mine in his classes at one of New England's best universities.
Published 4 months ago by BOS-DCA
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of angles
Lots of views on the art/craft/business of writing. Worth reading if only to see how many different angles there are to writing.
Published 5 months ago by John B. Rogers
4.0 out of 5 stars Awesome
Only problem that I have with this book is that it motivates me too much that I can't continue reading but go back to my papers to start writing. Must Read!
Published 8 months ago by J. Moon
5.0 out of 5 stars If you only choose one craft book on writing....
This is the best craft book, EVER, for writers. Walks with you through all the elements (practical and psychological) that you need to get the job done.
Published 13 months ago by Juanita Esperanrto
4.0 out of 5 stars It was a birthday gift for my daughter.
Had it sent to my daughter for a birthday gift.
Thanks for your excellent service!
Keep up the great work.
Published 21 months ago by Cheryl Peterson
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but slow reading
Lots of good advice in here, but the style (very academic) got in my way. It is a slow read and since there are tons of books on writing out there that cover the same material I... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars The Modern Library Writer's Workshop
I purchased this book as a reference book to use while I am writing. It is full of good tips and hints for the writer
Published 24 months ago by Lauri Watterson
5.0 out of 5 stars The Bible
It's a difficult thing wading through the myriad of writing books and most are all saying the same thing. Read more
Published on May 6, 2012 by Echobox
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical Advice for Aspiring Writers
The Modern Library Writer's Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction (Modern Library Paperbacks) by Stephen Koch is a wonderfully practical guide that gleans advice in the craft... Read more
Published on March 21, 2012 by Richard Hensley
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