Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Because You Have To: A Writing Life by Joan Frank

I wish I’d read Because You Have To with a highlighter in hand.

Where most books on writing seem to be written by fairly well-known authors or teachers, Joan Frank’s new collection of essays on the writing life comes from a different place, the pen of a writer who has learned, in her own words, “there may not be any breakthrough.” This is a woman who has published five works of fiction, been reviewed in the New York Times, but has come to accept that she may never be a household name, never able to answer the question, which she addresses in an essay, “Have you written anything I’ve heard of?” in the affirmative.

And yet, she continues to write, and write well, because, well, because she has to. Reading her essays felt more relatable to me, a wannabe writer who has published one story and a couple poems, than, say, Stephen King’s On Writing--although it’s good too. There is a compulsion in everyone who calls themselves a writer to create, to put the words down on paper and make them real, and Frank expresses that feeling more eloquently than most. She understands, and communicates, that writing is not about fame, or money, or notoriety. It’s about desire, about an insatiable need to get what’s inside outside. Every writer, famous or not, can relate to that.

Because You Have To isn’t a book on craft, for the most part. It’s more similar to Anne LaMott’s Bird by Bird or Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing. It’s full of advice--or sometimes just empathy--about the mundane things in a writer’s life: rejection letters, finding--or making--a place to write, and feeling as though you must “steal” time from the real world in order to get it down on paper.

Ultimately, what a reader gets from this sort of collection probably depends on what they brought into it. If they don’t write, have no desire to write, they won’t come away with a real understanding of the madness; but anyone who’s felt like they would burst if they didn’t tell their story, well, this one’s for you.


Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I so agree with what you said about what the reader comes away with depending on what he/she brings to it. This is definitely a book about writers for those who write...or who are interested in the art to begin with. I know that I will refer to this one again and again :)

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a book any writer could completely identify with.

Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

Brent Waggoner said...

Thanks Heather! Always great to be featured. Thanks for the books!