Review of Help! for Writers

The subtitle of this book is "210 solutions to the problems every writer faces". The author, Roy Peter Clark, has divided these up into seven main sections, these being:

  1. Getting started
  2. Getting your act together
  3. Finding focus
  4. Looking for language
  5. Building a draft
  6. Assessing your progress
  7. Making it better

Plus a section that includes the author's 25 favourite writing books.

What attracted me to the book were the fact that you can dip into it anywhere you like, and the subsections within the main sections. For example, one subheading is "I have problems selecting my best stuff". That is certainly a problem I have, but Clark suggests a fairly mechanical method of dealing with it. Ultimately, you end up with a list of what is most important and what is most interesting -- and there's a good chance they will be one and the same.

I have come across quite a lot of how-to books on the craft of writing, and what I especially liked about this one is that the advice is often different from the usual stuff. Not that the "usual stuff" is not good, but it is refreshing to hear something new for a change.

Although quite a few examples are concerned with fiction rather than non-fiction, I think the advice can be applied interchangeably between them.

I also liked the personal voice, and the honesty. Consider, for example, this extract from a sentence:

"I don't remember reading the stories in this anthology...."

I come across so many people and writers who try to present themselves as infallible that I appreciate it when someone says, in effect, "buy this book, even though I can't remember if I read all of it." (Clark recalls one part of it that was so god he read it over and over again.)

I have yet to come across anything in the book I don't like. However, I haven't read the book in its entirety. For that reason alone I fear I cannot give it 5 out of 5. All I will say is that if you are looking for a way to improve your efficiency as a writer,  and advice on how to deal with the sort of obstacles writers face day in and day out, buy this book.

Rating: 4/5

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