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Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction (Back Bay Book) Paperback – September 15, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0316115926 ISBN-10: 0316115924 Edition: 1st Back Bay Pbk. Ed

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Product Details

  • Series: Back Bay Book
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1st Back Bay Pbk. Ed edition (September 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316115924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316115926
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,109,470 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

With the enormous quantity of books on the market purporting to teach us how to write, it is with some relief that someone has thought to pull one together on why writers write. Will Blythe, a contributing editor to Harper's and Mirabella and formerly the literary editor at Esquire, has assembled a fine cast of 26 contemporary fiction writers to muse on his assigned topic, "Why I Write." The reasons, boiled down, range from "Because I can't do anything else" to "Because I can't not write." Ho-hum. But these are fiction writers, don't forget, and fiction writers can spin yarns.

Thom Jones's (The Pugilist at Rest, Cold Snap) formation as a writer began, perhaps, during lunch hours spent drawing sharp-witted comics in the principal's office at a Lutheran elementary school. A promising start at the Iowa writing program dead-ended, seemingly, with drunken night shifts as a school janitor. Only an epiphany involving Wile E. Coyote drew him back to writing. Before long, he'd sold three stories in one afternoon, to Harper's, Esquire, and the New Yorker. "Fiction writers often mature at a glacial pace," says Jones. " I was slower than most."

With apparent effortlessness, Elizabeth Gilbert (Pilgrims) weaves together tales of a cursing cowboy, her grade-school diary, a gawky teenager who aspired to be a magician, and a man whose neighbors had stolen his cat. "Sometimes," says Gilbert modestly, "when we are trying to find a calling, it is helpful to confirm that we are not really very good at anything else." Gilbert, it is clear, has found her calling. And Mark Richard (The Ice at the Bottom of the World, Fishboy) tells a sprawling mini-saga about a "special child" whose life is so full of the elements of good fiction (a scorpion-infested sandbox, a homesick mother, a father who accidentally lit a borrowed bulldozer on fire, a mean tomcat named Mr. Priss, a family friend who got shredded in a silage bin) that you can't imagine him not becoming a fiction writer. Also: Lee Smith, Pat Conroy, David Foster Wallace, Tom Chiarella, Jayne Anne Phillips, and others. --Jane Steinberg --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Literary editor Will Blythe (formerly of Esquire, now at Mirabella) asked 20 writers why they do the peculiar thing they do. Norman Mailer kicks things off with a meditation on an answer given to him by a friend: "The only time I know the truth is when it reveals itself at the point of my pen." This theme recurs, but one of the delights of this collection is the many unexpected ways the writers approached the question. Some (Lee Smith, Elizabeth Gilbert) talk about the prominence of stories in their family backgrounds. Rick Moody pairs his account of his growing into writing with one written by his mother. Rick Bass and Jim Harrison think about some of the larger implications of what fiction means in the lives of humans. Other answers run the gamut from the incomprehensible (Steven Wright) to the melodramatic (Pat Conroy, Jayne Anne Phillips) to the practical ("For the Money" by Mark Jacobson). In all, an eclectic and stimulating collection; recommended for public and academic libraries.AMary Paumier Jones, Westminster P.L., CO
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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A good read for writers, both seasoned and new.
B. Stiner
This is a wonderful book for those readers who aspire to write, as well as a unique a collection of insights for those who read contemporary fiction.
Valerie Lynn
I can literally open it to any page and find something that will help me at that moment.
C. McQuary

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Karon Luddy on October 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a holy compendium of wisdom for fiction writers to keep themselves from pulling out every single hair of their frustrated heads on any given day. When I need intensive literary therapy, I sit down and read the book from cover to cover; I've done this on at least seven occasions. WHY I WRITE is my intelligent literary cheerleader . Every morning before I begin to write, I randomly open the book and put my finger on a paragraph, and read the section. Invariably, I get the boost I need. It's like having coffee with a witty, brilliant friend that happens to be a writer. Ann Patchett, one of the writers whose essays appear in this book, says that "writers are people who desperately need habits to fill up their days." One of the best habits I've formed is referring to this powerful volume on a daily basis. Will Blythe's introduction is one of the best essays on writing I've ever read; he has brought together a magical cast of writers whose blunt, holy words have the power to heal many an ailing writer.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Blythe is as fine and impassioned a writer as he is a shrewd and judicious editor, and the real gem of this wonderful anthology is his beautifully drawn, occasionally hilarious and ultimately inspiring introduction. In these literal-minded journalism-crazed days it's hard to imagine any work that exhorts the merits of fiction putting much of a dent in the near-monopoly held by fact-based writing, but this anthology should lure many readers and maybe even a few journalists themselves who are tired of splashing around in the shallow pool of stories that actually happened when they could be diving into the deep water of figurative and imaginative truth.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By C. McQuary on February 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
I'm a produced playwright who has been working hard on writing prose for a few years. I've taken some University Extension classes on writing and was even selected to be a part of a prestigious year-long university novel-writing intensive. I own many wonderful books on the craft of writing and I have to say that this is my favorite. It's the one I always keep with me whereever I go. I can literally open it to any page and find something that will help me at that moment. I read it when I'm stuck or when it's flowing, when I'm bored with my writing or when I'm happy with it. Some of the essays in here I have read literally hundreds of times, and each time I get something new from them. The pieces by Rick Bass, Thom Jones, Mary Gaitskill and William Vollman are, IMHO, worth the price of the book. I have purchased copies for many of my writer friends when they've hit a slump. If you are serious about your writing, are past the beginner stage but every so often need the sage advice of a seasoned pro, then buy this book immediately.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By C. Ebeling on November 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
When I was a kid, I'd watch the opening credits of the original "Hawaii Five-O" to see if I could pinpoint exactly when the title emerged from the wave. That was near to impossible before the advent of the household VCR with the record, pause and stop functions. As I read further and further into the engaging collection of essays that comprise Why I Write, I kind of felt like I was squinting hard with the writers, as I once did at the TV screen, trying to see exactly wherein that impulse arises to commit fiction. It became apparent with the variety of attempts that Will Blythe, whose brainchild this was, must have felt at times that he had brought down upon found himself a task more difficult than herding feral cats.

That said, Blythe pulled together a diverse lot of writers of fiction who respond in a variety of ways. Here's Norman Mailer talking about a pal of his, to make his point. Here is Elizabeth Gilbert before she became known as a memoirist, chatting effortlessly in the way that would make Eat, Pray, Love loveable. There are a couple of writers, who I will not name, who bring to mind Anne Lamott's comment about why she wrote Bird By Bird, a writer's help manual--that she had heard one too many writers talk about the writing process like they were having high tea with the holy trinity. There is, it is wistful to note, a piece by David Foster Wallace that suggests writing fiction does not involve scones on high. Rick Moody dragooned his mother to write with him, which makes for an interesting oral history type project. If Blythe were a scientific researcher, he'd have to conclude that there was no evidence that cooperated in tracking to a singular answer.
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Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful book for those readers who aspire to write, as well as a unique a collection of insights for those who read contemporary fiction. Each writer in this edited collection seems more passionate and self-exploratory than the next in their descriptions of what motivates them to write and what fuels their committment to an often lonely pursuit. Whether it is Rick Bass drawing on summer mountain breezes or Terry McMillan assuring us that writing makes her a better person, we are drawn in by these essays. The works have been crafted to share the kinds of internal dialogue a writer might have with himself. Each essay allows the reader to assume the privileged role of fascinated listener. Ann Patchett's praise of her mentor, Allan Gurganus, who remains incredibly more significant than a former teacher in her life, is fascinating. Although I have purchased many books on writing, I found this volume belatedly, and am utterly grateful I did. It is one of the best collections of writings from the heart. Mr. Blythe has created a little treasure; it's a gift any working writer would appreciate having in his/her collection. It raises the spirits of the aspiring writer as well; particularly on the days when the muse seems to have escaped for good.
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