Book Review: The War of Art

war of artTitle: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Author: Steven Pressfield
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Date of Publication: 2002
Genre: non-fiction – Self-Help

Brief Overview: (from the back of the book)

In this powerful, straight-from-the-hip examination of the internal obstacles to success, bestselling author Steven Pressfield shows readers how to identify, defeat, and unlock the inner barriers to creativity. The War of Art is an inspirational, funny, well-aimed kick in the pants guaranteed to galvanize every would be artist, visionary, or entrepreneur.

Brief Review: This book has been in print for over a decade and is still quite popular (I had to wait over a month to obtain a copy from my local library). I understand why. It is a quick read with a wealth of wisdom. It was the exact book I needed to read at this point in my life, and I have a feeling there will be other times where it will be equally pertinent to pick up and re-read again.

Of course I read the book as a novice writer … but really the truths pertain to all creative endeavors: painter, sculptor, poet, musician, photographer, etc.

Here are a few profound quotes that I have taken to heart:

Resistance is what prevents us from moving forward:

Editors are not the enemy; critics are not the enemy. Resistance is the enemy. … Resistance uses fear of rejection to paralyze us and prevent us, if not from doing our work, then from exposing it to public evaluation. (page 87)

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance:

(Procrastination) is the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I’m going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.” (page 21)

Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man:

(Rationalization’s) job is to keep us from feeling the same we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work. (page 53)

If Resistance let us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame – and shame may drive us to act in the face of fear” (page 55)

The way to combat Resistance is to Turn Pro:

“Resistance knows that the amateur will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and over terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him. … Do not over identify with the job; we are not our job description.” (page 70)

“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome.” (page 79)

The Hierarchy structure does not work; creatives must operate from a territorial standpoint:

“The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake. … In the hierarchy the artist looks up and down. The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within.” (page 151)

“The act of creation is by definition territorial. As the mother-to-be bears her child within her, so the artist contains her new life. No one can help her give birth. … The artist and mother are vehicles, not originators. They don’t create the new life, they only bear it.” (page 156)

Art for Art’s Sake:

“We should be asking ourselves, what do I feel growing inside of me? Let me bring that forth, if I can, for its own sake and not for what it can do for me or how it can advance my standing.” (page 157)

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and ever being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” (page 165)

These are, of course, only the highlights. Every page offers an encouraging word and a mandate to keep pressing forward. We all have a story to tell, in whatever medium we choose. It is our duty to tell it and share it with others.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Book Review: 16 Lighthouse Road

16 lighthouseTitle: 16 Lighthouse Road (Cedar Cove #1)
Author: Debbie Macomber
Publisher: Harlequin Books
Date of Publication: 2001
Genre: Fiction – romance

Brief Overview: (from Goodreads)

When the divorce case of Cecilia and Ian Randall comes before family court judge Olivia Lockhart, she denies their petition. She knows this Cedar Cove, Washington, couple still loves each other–they just need to try harder to make their marriage work. But then Jack Griffin, an interfering, attractive reporter catches wind of what’s going on, and suddenly the whole town’s talking!

Brief Review: First let me go on record as saying I am NOT a chick lit reader. My husband is far more romantic than I am: gifts of chocolate and flowers are lost on me – I would prefer something more practical (like a bookstore gift card). In addition, I prefer my literary life to have more substance – more nitty-gritty and less “happily ever after”.

Having said that… as a writer I am intrigued with the idea of creating a fictional small-town that follows the lives of its long-time residents. While I like to read nitty-gritty, I am not sure I am capable of writing it. And if I want to learn how to structure this kind of narrative, then I should read the best, and that is Debbie Macomber.

While this is not necessarily a riveting read, I am vested in the characters. I like Olivia, the 50-something judge who isn’t afraid to take a stand for what she feels is right. I like the generational dynamics that occur between Olivia and her daughter – Olivia and her mother – and the grandmother/granddaughter relationship. The “sandwich generation” is a topic that I long to explore in-depth.

The book is a quick read, and while I find myself skimming through certain portions, I am enjoying the storyline and the way the various characters intertwine throughout the novel.

Quite frankly, I have never read a series before (well, except for Nancy Drew) but I think this one might be a good one to start with. I am curious to see how the author develops the characters over time: what she chooses to reveal early in the series, and how she builds upon that in each book. I already love Cedar Cove, and I would like to see how she maintains the quaint familiar setting without it becoming boring and mundane. And I am excited to see what conflicts take place in this idyllic small town, and how they are resolved without the need for rose-colored glasses.

All-in-all, I am glad that I put my prejudices aside and picked up a “romance” novel.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


Book Review: Junonia

JunoniaTitle: Junonia
Author: Kevin Henkes
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (imprint of Harper Collins)
Date of Publication: 2011
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Brief Overview: Every February Alice Rice and her parents vacation on Sanibel Island, Florida, the week of her birthday. They stay in the same cabin, surrounded by the same vacationing families every year. This year, however, is special as Alice will turn ten; double digits is a major turning point in a child’s life, and Alice has great expectations. She has collected shells for years and desires more than anything to find the rare Junonia shell to help celebrate this milestone birthday.

Brief Review: The story is not an action adventure, but rather a leisurely stroll through the week as Alice learns to accept the inevitable disappointments in life. There is conflict, to be sure, but more internal struggles rather than outward challenges. Alice must learn to accept herself rather than focus on the beauty mark that she considers “ugly”. She must learn to navigate feelings of jealousy and selfishness when confronted with a young girl who joins the family on her special day. As an only child, Alice needs to develop creativity and imagination to prevent loneliness. And Alice learns the value of persistence and perseverance as she never loses sight of her goal: finding the prized Junonia shell.

I was first intrigued by this book because it took place on Sanibel Island… where I took my husband for a surprise 40th birthday celebration. The favorite pastime of the island is shelling, and I have had a love of seashells since seventh grade (I even wrote my first research paper on this topic).

But it was the author’s writing style that held my attention. Alice may be young, but she has a well-developed vocabulary and a rich thought-process. If I were to assess her personality, I would say that she is an introvert who enjoys spending time in self-discovery. In other words… she is a lot like me.

I particularly enjoyed the author’s use of words. In the beginning, Alice ponders family names, and the definition of wordsmith came to mind – the way she plays with letter arrangement and deeper insight:

Alice thought her parents’ names suited them. Tom, the name, was short and solid, like her father. And Pam, spelled backward, was map. Her mother always seemed to have the answers, seemed to know what to do. (6)

Alice thought that a brother would have made her family complete, especially a brother named Eric, because Eric and Rice have the exact same letters. (7)

The author also illustrated “show don’t tell” by using fresh and inventive metaphors and similes:

clouds, like shredded rags, were scattered across the sky (23)
Sun reached the water. Sun glinted like silver stitches fastening the sea to the sky. (159)

A learned much about writing for this particular audience by reading this book. I learned that short sentences do not necessarily mean simplistic; I do not have to write “down” to these students, I just need to write for them. I learned that inventive language and expressive details are necessary for all readers. And I learned that a sweet story about everyday life presents its own compelling conflicts.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Book Review: The Walk

the walkTitle: The Walk
Author: Richard Paul Evans
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Date of Publication: (2010)
Genre: Fiction – inspirational

Brief Overview: (from Amazon)

What would you do if you lost everything—your job, your home, and the love of your life—all at the same time? When it happens to Seattle ad executive Alan Christoffersen, he’s tempted by his darkest thoughts. Instead, he decides to take a walk. But not any ordinary walk. Taking with him only the barest of essentials, Alan leaves behind all that he’s known and heads for the farthest point on his map: Key West, Florida. The people he encounters along the way, and the lessons they share with him, will save his life—and inspire yours.

A life-changing journey, both physical and spiritual, The Walk is the first of an unforgettable bestselling series of books about one man’s search for hope.

Brief Review: I have had this book on my shelf for years, ever since a good friend recommended it. Since I have started a daily walk routine – and I have entered into a new phase of life (empty-nest, retiree), I thought it might be time to read it.

I was unaware (or perhaps I just forgot) that this was the first book in a series, but I quickly deduced that on my own. The protagonist sets out on a walk across the United States – from Seattle to Key West – but when at the half way point he had not yet left Washington State, I knew there had to be a sequel. Come to find out there are FOUR more books in the series – which I fear is a bit too long-winded for me.

I enjoyed the story line, and I could relate to the main character. There are certainly times when I feel overwhelmed with life and just want to run (or walk) away. I understand the need for a long introduction before he actually hits the road. We need to know that he has indeed hit rock bottom: he has no reason to stay and nothing to lose by leaving.

I enjoyed the author’s writing style, that is, the reader feels as though he is on the journey too: we are walking twenty to thirty miles each day, and we feel emotionally if not physically drained when we finally reach a resting spot for the evening. The various characters he encounters along the way are also believable: some stare in disbelief, others pretend to ignore the stranger in town, and still others are willing to show kindness and compassion.

The book ends at a climatic moment. The reader knows the protagonist will survive, but we are curious as to how he will heal in order to continue the journey and if perhaps… he will have a companion join him the rest of the way.

I am interested in reading the second book. My problem, I think, is that there are four more books to the series and I am not sure I am that vested in the story. I want to read the sequels, but I do not feel compelled to read them. Perhaps if it had been a trilogy instead…

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


Book Review: Show Your Work

show workTitle: Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered
Author: Austin Kleon
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Date of Publication: 2014
Genre: non-fiction: Writing

Brief Overview: In this book Austin Kleon encourages us to freely share with others. We need to focus on process rather than product and not be afraid to put our imperfect work out there. The concept of being generous rather than guarded and protective is what will help us form relationships – and relationships lead to referrals.

Brief Review: I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s first book, Steal Like an Artist (my review is here) … but I think I liked this one even better. It is another very quick and easy read, in part because of its smaller size, but also because it combines text with illustrations. However, don’t let the size fool you. This small volume packs a powerful punch.

I love how the author teaches me to embrace my status as an amateur writer. An amateur, he notes, is an enthusiast; a lover of what he does.

We’re all terrified of being revealed as amateurs, but it is the amateur who pursues work in the spirit of love, regardless of potential for fame, money or career – that has the advantage over the professional. (page 15)

He also has helped me to develop realistic timeframes:

One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish 1,000 posts over a decade and it turns into your life’s work. (page 66)

While those of us who are just starting out may feel we have nothing worth sharing, he immediately dispels that argument. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just honest.

Share whatever stage you’re in… if just beginning a project, share what is inspiring you; if working on a project, share what is your process (and how it is going); if in the revision process, share what has ended up on the cutting room floor; if near completion, share snippets and solicit commentary; at the end of a project, share what you learned along the way. (page 48)

The book is most definitely worth a read.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Book Review: Still Writing

still writingTitle: Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life
Author: Dani Shapiro
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Date of Publication: 2013
Genre: non-fiction: Writing

Brief Overview: (from Goodreads)

Through a blend of deeply personal stories about what formed her as a writer, tales from other authors, and a searching look at her own creative process, Shapiro offers her gift to writers everywhere: an elegant guide of hard-won wisdom and advice for staying the course. “The writer’s life requires courage, patience, empathy, openness. It requires the ability to be alone with oneself. Gentle with oneself. To be disciplined, and at the same time, take risks.” Writers—and anyone with an artistic temperament—will find inspiration and comfort in these pages. Offering lessons learned over twenty years of teaching and writing, Shapiro brings her own revealing insights to weave an indispensable almanac for modern writers.

Brief Review:

I have read numerous books on writing, but always seem thirsty for more. Typically I find one or two nuggets in each book that encourage me and/or teach me more about the writing process. This book, however, provided far more than a nugget.

The author’s writing style is the perfect combination of wit and wisdom. She has valuable insights and tips to share, but does so in a relaxed, conversational manner. I learned how not to take life so seriously, while also learning how to focus more on my craft.

The message I loved most was: not all writers are cut from the same mold. A process that might work for one best-selling author may not be a process that works for me. I should experiment and not be afraid to try something new. Computer or long-hand…. morning or night…. write until empty or leave a little left to be said to start the next day … write xx number of words or xx number of minutes each day…. focus on one project or have several going at the same time.

These are the questions to consider when developing a personal writing routine, but the most important component is simply to WRITE.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.