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Starting from Scratch Paperback – March 1, 1989

3.7 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Focusing on the wonders of the English language, "Brown here gives nonwriters and writers alike a book to enjoy quite apart from its instructional value," stated PW . " The tone is stern but empathetic, spiced by the author's sassy wit and full of information on the writer's craft."
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

While Brown offers sound practical advice for fiction writers, her witty colloquial style makes this manual more entertaining than others. Brown is less concerned with showing writers how to break into the market than with their survivalphysical, spiritual, and creativewhile trying to become published. Thus she instructs the reader not just in matters of craft but how to get enough to eat and sleep while working the "paying job." Suggested writing exercises, an annotated reading list, and a plan for a model writer's school all betray Brown's seriousness about the entreprise of literary production, making this useful for students of writing and literature and of interest to those curious about Brown's own career. Mollie Brodsky, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, N.J.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reissue edition (March 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 055334630X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553346305
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,575,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The author comes across as arrogant and condescending most of the time. I'd recommend skipping Parts I and II altogether, where she brags about herself then lays down all sorts of "musts" if you want to be a "real" writer. Writers have an amazing talent for procrastinating: I must clean the entire house-, I must paint the bedroom-, I must find a new job before I can start writing. Brown's "Must study Latin first" rule discussed by others above strikes me as a colossal example for this. I'm sure studying Latin is one of many effective ways to improve your craft, but to insist writers should not even put pen to paper until those two years of study are complete seems the height of lunacy.

Authors interested in writing mystery, fantasy, horror, SF, etc, will likely be put off by her repeated declaration that genre fiction is on the far edges of the distant suburbs of fiction, and none of her rules apply to it because it isn't real writing.

Part IV - a whip around of the peculiarities of writing different forms and in different media (television and film scripts, magazine articles, plays, etc - is of minor interest, short stories are blown off altogether.

Part V, her curriculum for a writers conservatory, would be better shared with an academic journal.

Part VI, her 30+ page reading list of critical works of fiction through the ages, starting in 665 AD, feels like it's pulled from a doctoral dissertation.

It's an interesting list, and contains many excellent works of genre:
...Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent writer's manual in many ways--I particularly enjoyed the emphasis on reading classics for "what works," the reasoning behind why a writer should know Latin, among others--even while it is totally inappropriate in others--things such as the unrealistic expectations based on Brown's own successes and her failure to understand genres, especially science fiction, fantasy and mystery. Still, the annotated reading list in the back is amazing for the simple fact that you have a hard time imagining that one person could read all of it, and yet it challenges you to give it a go.

(This "review" originally appeared in First Impressions Installment One [[...]
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By A Customer on August 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
Starting From Scratch will have you laughing and crying your way to the end. This is how it really is; from publishers to editors to rejections to how to pay the rent. Rita Mae Brown writes one of the best books on the writing life I've ever come across.
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Format: Paperback
As Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, John Gardner's Art of Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist, Stephen King's On Writing, and many more. This book is just another hybrid memoir/advice book. Not that this is necessarily bad (nor necessarily good) but the title is definitely deceptive.
Compared to the books I just mentioned, I definitely found this one below average. The information regarding latinate vs. Anglo-Saxon words gets a bit more thorough covering than in John Gardner, which is really nice, and if I could have bought just that chapter I would have, but listening to Ms. Brown's rather annoying social opinions for the rest of the book made it just not worth it - not for this Yankee anyway.
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Format: Paperback
I would like to first say I mean no disrespect to Rita Mae Brown, who is obviously a very accomplished writer. However, I read this book in the mid-90s, when I first started thinking about writing a novel. I was young and naive and had never even attended a writing workshop at that point. Twenty years later as a published novelist with six books under contract with one of the big six publishers, I must say that I'm glad the younger me wasn't discouraged by the "my way or no way" advice in this book.

I make a full-time living as a freelance writer and novelist. I do not have a PhD in writing, have never taken Latin, and have never owned a cat. I find none of these three things necessary to getting published. Save yourself the money and join a good writers organization. Attend critique groups in your area. Network with other writers and really learn the business. Read, read, read, and write, write, write. In a few years, you'll get far more than you ever would get from listening to some stuffy professor in a college classroom. That's your PhD. While learning Latin can certainly help you develop an appreciation for the English language if that's your choice, I see no connection whatsoever between owning a cat and becoming a published author. Even today, after twenty years of advice, that remains as the absolute dumbest piece of writing advice I've ever heard.

If you choose a writing how-to book there are so many other great ones. Don't waste your time on this one, which I picked out at a Waldenbooks in a mall in the 90s because I liked the cover. If you do choose to read it to take in Rita Mae Brown's lovely prose, just remember to take what you need from the advice and toss the rest out. I can pretty much assure you that most successfully published writers today would laugh if they were told that a writer has to have a PhD, courses in Latin, and a cat to be successful.
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