Review: If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

Review: If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

Brenda Ueland he dares you to write freely and recklessly, to never be afraid of making mistakes.

Let’s cut right to chase here. I really enjoyed this book, it’s a charming read…but I’m not going to recommend it.

I first heard of it through a reddit thread  that was discussing the best books to read on writing and the writing process. I’d never heard of it before but the people in the thread were really enthusiastic about it.

As the resident “how to” book lover, it wasn’t long before If You Want to Write was on my Kindle. So now I’m here to review Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.

This firs thing anyone reading If You Want to Write needs to know (and what I didn’t know going into it) is that, despite the title, this is not really a book about how to write. It’s more a…philosophical guide to the mindset Brenda Ueland believes you should have towards your writing. She even goes so far as to say that the reader can substitute the word writing for whatever your passion is, be it painting or playing the piano or baking. 

Now, I did find this philosophical approach to be helpful; it’s uplifting and positive. Brenda made me feel better about my writing. She talks about how to ignore that insidious voice of self-criticism and just sit down and write. Which is great, and is the sort of advice I (all of us?) need to hear every single day. She talks about how, no matter what you write, everything you say is original and unique. She dares you to write freely and recklessly, to never be afraid of making mistakes. 

I loved those bits.

At a glance…

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The problem is that this book was published in 1938 and it really, really, shows. So much of the information that she gives, the generalisations that she makes about society (servants work hard, Mexicans are a thoughtful people?!) just read as horribly dated.

Brenda Ueland does dip into the psychological reasons why people struggle to write when we get to those parts…well, it’s psychology from the 1930s, and it’s not an insignificant portion of the book. 

Brenda talks about how we shouldn’t feel the need to be anything other than our true self as we write. Which sounds good. Except, then she goes on to define when you are at your truest self and it turns out stimulants are to be avoided because you stop being your true self. Which means no more mainlining coffee when I write. Brenda doesn’t think I’m writing honestly when I do that. I…disagree.

She also talks about religion with the ease of someone from a different age: Jesus is an artist and the Holy Spirit is our sense of inspiration. She repeats that message quite a bit.

Now I’m not religious myself and if this was a modern book I probably would have stopped reading at this kind of Christian imagery, but I understand that things were different in the 1930s. You could casually slip Jesus into the conversation without anyone raising an eyebrow. Nowadays though it is sort of jarring, even though I know she’s not trying to convert me and that she’s using these words in a very benign way. Still, even though I was alright with it (and I’m sure most people would be), I wouldn’t want to recommend this to anyone else.

So, with all these negatives, why did I enjoy this?

Well, first of all because it is just relentlessly positive. Brenda believes in me. She believes in you. She urges all of us to sit down and try. Maybe that first book is going to be bad, but it doesn’t matter, because you’re going to write another two books. You’re going to keep on writing until you get better and you definitely will get better. Brenda believes that 100% and she desperately wants you to believe it too. You know, by the end of the book, I kind of believed her myself. 

The thing that I found utterly charming about this book was Brenda’s use of quotations and her love of William Blake. Now, I didn’t know much about Blake before I read this book, but Brenda really convinced me that Blake was somebody who I should be looking up to as a mentor. The man worked all the time, he constantly wrote and painted. Most of his work was never published, because he didn’t work for fame or glory. He worked, he created, out of love, out of a boundless passion. That’s why he had the energy to continually work, and it’s also why Blake was, supposedly, an incredibly happy man. 

Just to go back to Brenda’s use of quotations. She uses a lot of them! However many you’re imagining then you should treble it. And I loved it! A lot of the quotations are from William Blake, and a fair few from Vincent Van Gogh (probably not going to be a surprise to anyone, but Vince seems like a really dedicated guy). Brenda uses these little gems to underline her talking points and show you that all you need is the confidence to start writing honestly. 

So, yeah, I enjoyed this book, I felt spurred to write more because of Brenda’s passion and her enthusiastic encouragement. I just can’t recommend it because, in so many ways, all that “good” comes with an awful lot of baggage. 

Looking for some inspiration?!

The bookspry team wrote a book of writing prompts and it’s available now! Weird and wacky prompts to bust you out of that rut…or to distract you from your real work.

Note: bookspry.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

© 2019 bookspry. All rights reserved.

Review: “Crank it Out” by C.S. Lakin

Review: “Crank it Out” by C.S. Lakin

Part of C.S. Lakin’s “Writer’s Toolbox” series, Crank It Out is a fairly well known (fairly well received) book about increasing writing productivity. The focus is on how, as a writer, you can turn your productivity around and really start to…you guessed it…crank it out. That’s where I need to start….

At a glance…

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I’m going to do something a little different here and write two “reviews” for Crank It Out: The Surefire Way to Become a Super-Productive Writer, by C.S. Lakin. The reason is that the theme of this book took a hard turn for me about two-thirds of the way through and it almost feels like two completely different books for me at this point. I also want to be very clear about what I got out of this book and why.  

The first part of this review is of the first two thirds of the book, and the second is a review of the last third. Because my reaction to those two different sections is so extreme that I don’t think it’s fair to judge them all at once.  

Ok, so “Part 1”:

Lakin’s advice is a reflection of what worked for her, in her life, to get more work done. It’s targeted at writing, but could be read as a general self-help or productivity book. That’s my problem with it. It is very general. I read this for writing advice, instead I got whole chapters about how I would feel better and be more productive if I exercise every day and drink lemon water. 

Which, don’t get me wrong, that is good advice! Well, I’m not 100% certain about the lemon water thing, but I should be exercising more…and, like she says, eating more healthy food, although I fundamentally disagree with her anti-coffee stance (Come on, a writer who doesn’t like coffee?! What are we doing here?).

But ultimately, as a writer, I was pretty disappointed with the book up to this point. Which brings me to the next part of the review:

“This book spoke to me in a way that no other writing book ever has”

“Part 2”:

This was life changing. Like she looked into my soul and diagnosed exactly what is holding up my writing. Never felt more seen than by this woman. Spoke to me in a way that no other writing book ever has. Address the issue of procrastination, of what it means to be a perfectionist. 

I came to a better understanding of myself by reading this book. She made me see why I do the things I do. 

Everyone who wants to write should read this. If you have anyone in your life that you love and they have goals that they aren’t working towards then buy this for them too. 

Ultimately, I simply can’t recommend highly enough the last few chapters of this book. Utterly changed my approach to writing. However the beginning and middle were not that useful to me, and can be skipped through if you aren’t looking for more general life advice.

Looking for some inspiration?!

The bookspry team wrote a book of writing prompts and it’s available now! Weird and wacky prompts to bust you out of that rut…or to distract you from your real work.

Note: bookspry.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

© 2019 bookspry. All rights reserved.

Review: The Liar’s Bible by Lawrence Block

Review: The Liar’s Bible by Lawrence Block

“Don’t expect any action items, but The Liar’s Bible will help you mature as a writer.”

I bought The Liar’s Bible without really knowing anything about it. I didn’t know anything about the author, his various pen names or his multiple bestselling series. 

The Liar’s Bible by Lawrence Block is another of those books that fellow indie authors recommended to me, telling me that I simply had to read it but without really explaining why. It’s simply one of those books that are in the author-ether (and message boards) and so I bought it without even reading the book’s blurb.

So, to save you from a similar fate, I’ll tell you what I really should have known before cracking it open.

Lawrence Block is a highly successful writer, who has written in all kinds of interesting genres and, most importantly for us, for years he wrote a monthly column giving out writing advice in Writer’s Digest magazine

At a glance…

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This particular book – Lawrence has quite a few books on writing – is a collection of some of those previously published magazine articles. Forty articles, each around 1700 words in length. 

Each article/chapter is written in the avuncular style of a seasoned author handing out advice over a friendly cup of coffee. So far, so easily digestible. The downside is that the articles themselves can feel a bit…dated. Which starts to make sense when you realise most were published in the 1980s.

This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but the publishing industry (like so many others) has undergone a sea change in recent years that can make stories and advice from 20-30 years ago seem almost quaint, if not completely alien. 

The chapter on his experience with self-publishing, for example, is so different from my experience that he might as well be giving me his views on gardening, or interior decorating, for all the use it is. Sure, it’s interesting to hear about how he physically printed his books, but it’s not something that has any practical purpose to me in 2020.

Ultimately though, I do understand why this book is so popular. It’s a fascinating read, written in an engaging, jovial style. Block has decades of experience and he really is a fantastic writer. He knows what it’s like to run out of motivation and just not be able to write anymore, he knows what’s like to lose confidence or get bored of a manuscript. He’s been through it all and now he wants to tell you about it.

Nowadays, there seem to be far too many books on writing that can feel utterly useless. They read like page after page of filler, teasing the reader onwards and dragging out every point just to up the word count, or worse, the page count. The Liar’s Bible is definitely not that. Block has a lot to say, and he makes point after point. At least one point per chapter, so that’s a minimum of…forty points! Yet, now that I’ve finished the book, I couldn’t really tell you what I actually learned from it. 

There’s no single ultimate message, no actionable takeaways. Really, how could there be from an anthology like this? But I feel like I’m a better writer for having read it.

Looking for some inspiration?!

The bookspry team wrote a book of writing prompts and it’s available now! Weird and wacky prompts to bust you out of that rut…or to distract you from your real work.

Note: bookspry.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

© 2019 bookspry. All rights reserved.

Review: Six Figure Author by Chris Fox

Review: Six Figure Author by Chris Fox

Chances are you already come across Chris Fox at some point in your self-publishing journey. A prominent figure in the indie publishing industry for a long time, Chris Fox has a book for almost any part of your self-pub business. From marketing, to launching books, to writing tips, he’s got something for everything. 

Like a lot of Fox’s books Six-Figure Author is slickly packaged and easy to consume (and is generally well reviewed).

But what do YOU get out of it?

That’s where bookspry.com author tool reviews comes in! This time, we’re reviewing Six Figure Author: Using Data to Sell Books by Chris Fox.

At a glance…

Readability

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This is a great book for someone who is an absolute beginner to online marketing. There is a lot of good stuff in here – the kind of marketing knowledge that you need to have if you’re going to make it is as a self-published author. But it’s also information that is readily available elsewhere, and is just that, knowledge for a beginner.

The main premise of the book is that indie authors today can’t simply be writers, we need to have all sorts of other skills in our toolbox, especially when it comes to marketing. Chris Fox walks through concepts like finding your target audience, understanding reader expectations, serial readers, etc. These are the real building blocks of how to market your book to readers.

“This is a great book for someone who is an absolute beginner to online marketing.”

If a friend came to me and said they’d decided to self-publish their work and that they’d just bought this book, then I’d congratulate them on such a great first step.

And it is a good first step! If you have never worked in marketing before, then these are not concepts that will naturally come to mind, and here they are all gathered together for $5! 

So, maybe I’m just being cheap, but you’re essentially paying $5 so that you won’t have to do a couple of hours of early research. And that’s the main “problem” with this book: Chris is not saying anything new, he’s not revealing some secret to success.

This book will not give you the secret path to being a “Six Figure Author” but it may show you where the path starts.

Looking for some inspiration?!

The bookspry team wrote a book of writing prompts and it’s available now! Weird and wacky prompts to bust you out of that rut…or to distract you from your real work.

Note: bookspry.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

© 2019 bookspry. All rights reserved.

Review: “Romancing the Beat” by Gwen Hayes

Review: “Romancing the Beat” by Gwen Hayes

You want to know how to structure your romance novel?

Not sure how to meet-cute? Are your characters Fighting For Love, when they should be Retreating from Love? Feeling a little lost? Then you need to read this book.

At a glance…

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Value

Overall Score

This is the gold standard for romance writers.

If you’ve spent any time hanging out in writer forums then you’ve probably already seen people talking about including ‘the beats,’ or ‘hitting the beats.’ This book is what they’re talking about. Gwen lays out a plot structure, a series of beats in a certain order, that you should incorporate into your romance. 

This is starting to sound a bit formulaic, right?

You have an interesting idea for a plot, you don’t need someone else to come along to and tell you how to write your novel for you! Part of the joy of being a writer is that you get to make all those decisions. BUT the romance beats are purely for the romance part of your book. You can still have a wild and adventurous plot separate to the romance. The beats are there to make sure that the romance doesn’t get stale. If you want two characters to fall in love, then you have to follow a certain pattern or it won’t be believable.

Gwen takes all these unwritten rules of storytelling (and human nature) and crystallises them for you in an easy to understand nicely digestible way. Her book is short, easy to read and comes with 80s music recommendations to accompany each chapter and get you in the mood.

I honestly don’t have a bad word to say about this book! …However, I know that some people can get quite annoyed by the very idea that romance arcs are as unvaried as Gwen implies.

Sure, in real life, people fall in love in all sorts of ways; romance can take all sorts of forms but romance readers expect certain things. Gwen’s beats aren’t supposed to be a strait-jacket to your creativity. She is giving you a recipe, that you can add your own tropes and plot into.

The Good:

The beats. If you’re a romance writer then you need this book.

The Bad:

Strangely enough, the bad about this book is the same as the good. Gwen only discusses romance beats. There isn’t anything else in this book; it caters to a very specific audience and if you aren’t in that audience then there really isn’t any point reading it.

Pearls of Wisdom:

People who read romance have certain things that they want from their books. You can do all sorts of interesting and imaginative things with your story, but you have to bear your audience in mind as you write; or, as Gwen puts it:

“Don’t betray your readers!”

See our other reviews here.

Looking for some inspiration?!

The bookspry team wrote a book of writing prompts and it’s available now! Weird and wacky prompts to bust you out of that rut…or to distract you from your real work.

Review: “5k Words per Hour” by Chris Fox

Review: “5k Words per Hour” by Chris Fox

Want to write faster? Of course you do.

If you’re struggling with getting your daily word count up, there’s a good chance this book is for you…but be warned, there isn’t any magic formula: it’s going to take a lot of work to actually get up to 5k an hour. The main lesson of this book is accountability and ways to stop procrastinating. Now, that’s obviously very useful, it’s just not the quick fix that I’d hoped for from the title.

At a glance…

Readability

Usefulness

Motivation

Value

Overall Score

Want to write faster? Of course you do.

If you’re struggling with getting your daily word count up, there’s a good chance this book is for you…but be warned, there isn’t any magic formula: it’s going to take a lot of work to actually get up to 5k an hour. The main lesson of this book is accountability and ways to stop procrastinating. Now, that’s obviously very useful, it’s just not the quick fix that I’d hoped for from the title.

Have you ever set aside a few hours to write and felt that sense of excitement? You can feel the hours stretching ahead of you, totally free of any other responsibility, and you’re going to get so much written. It’s going to be glorious. And then, out of nowhere, it’s four hours later and you’ve only written a few sentences.

This book is for everyone who never wants to have that feeling again. Chris’s advice to stop this happening is two-fold. First, learn to focus on your writing. Easier said than done, right? He does have a lot of good ideas. Some are pretty practical and obvious, i.e. turn off your internet when you’re trying to write. Others are more original; he explains how to use writing sprints to focus and increase your words per hour.

I really like the idea of writing sprints and that, if I practice enough, then over time I’ll be writing more and more in each sprint. Personally, that hasn’t worked out for me. I sprint in fifteen-minute bursts and, no matter how focused I am, I write the same amount in a sprint as I did a few months ago. However, I know a lot of people who absolutely rave about Chris’s writing sprint technique so maybe it’s just me.

The problem is, Chris is not the first person to recommend writing sprints. Do a little research and you find that this is pretty conventional wisdom. You don’t need to buy this book to find out how sprints work. Chris explains things slowly and clearly. He puts a bit of a unique spin on the concept and on how to record your sprints. But I would really like the book to be a bit cheaper when his advice isn’t exactly earth-shattering.

Chris’s second piece of advice is to keep track of the amount of time that you spend actually writing, how many words you write in each session, how often you’re doing sprints. It’s about making yourself accountable. This is great advice. It’s really easy to lose track of how much time I actually spend writing. I feel like I write every day. If the chapter I’m working on isn’t finished yet, well that’s because it’s a tough scene and it’s slowing me down. By keeping track of my writing it stops me from making those kinds of excuses. I can look at my spreadsheet and see for myself that I’m getting less done because I’m spending less time writing. Now, maybe I’m spending less time writing because I’m in the middle of a tough scene and I’m not enjoying it…But keeping a log of these kinds of details means that it’s impossible to lie to myself.

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone looking to write faster and avoid procrastination. Even though not all Chris’s techniques worked for me, a lot still did. His writing style is upbeat and full of infectious enthusiasm. I finished this book, put it down and felt inspired, and I bet you will too.

The Good:

Chris’s book made me feel invigorated and excited to get writing, and isn’t that the most important thing about a writing book?

The Bad:

Chris created an app that helps you keep track of your writing sprints using the method that he outlines in the book. This is a paid app. You don’t need his app to use his method, but there is a good chunk of a chapter that reads like an advert for his app.

Yeah, Chris, I know the app is only the price of a cup of coffee…but I already paid for your book and it turned out to be a commercial for something else you want me to pay for. It’s not great.

Plus, the app doesn’t even work…

Pearls of Wisdom:

I want to write faster but it can be disheartening how often I get told that writing must be a slow process, how if I haven’t spent a decade on a book then it’s somehow lacking in merit. I like this quotation that explains what’s wrong with that attitude:

“The gal who’s been writing the same chapter for two months might find just the right words, but you’ll have learned how to convey emotion, show motivation, how to describe a scene, how to craft dialogue, and a dozen other skills she’s never even considered because she’s written a grand total of 20,000 words in her entire career.”