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Book Review: The Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich (3/5)

18 Jun

I’m embarrassed to say how long I’ve had this book. It was a gift from a writing friend years and years ago for Christmas. I’ve been terrible about reading my own books before COVID so I’m glad I’m finally getting to the books I’ve been putting off for so long. My TBR is tumbling during quarantine!

Cover image via Amazon

Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich

Summary from Amazon:

The great paradox of the writing life is that to be a good writer, you must be both interested in the world around you and comfortable working in solitude for hours on end. Fiction Writer’s Workshop is designed to help you foster a strong sense of independence–of being and thinking on your own, of becoming self-evaluative without being self-critical–in order to accomplish what others seek in classroom groups.

In this comprehensive guide, award-winning writer and teacher Josip Novakovich explores every aspect of the art of fiction and provides all the tools and techniques you’ll need to develop day-to-day discipline as well as a personal writing style, such as:

• More than 100 writing exercises, including dozens that are new to this edition, that challenge you to experiment with diverse writing styles
• Specific statements of purpose for each exercise, to help guide you and instruct you at every step of the creative process
• Self-critique questions to help you assess your work and identify strengths and weaknesses before moving on to the next lesson
• The full text of eight acclaimed short stories, with analysis and exercises, to provide models for your own writing and help reinforce the lessons you’ve learned

The practical, insightful methods offered in this workshop will clarify your voice, broaden your perspective, and strengthen your fiction

I feel like I’m getting diminishing returns on the writing books I read recently. Writing Fiction for Dummies was great but it covered so much that subsequent books have repeated a lot and not given me much more to work with. The YA specific books have been good and helped me think about YA themes and characters. This book, however, seemed really focused on the short story format and it didn’t give me as much to work with and kind of let me know. It also seemed to be geared toward adult literature and literary fiction, both of which aren’t exactly my focus. Some of the advice was good for writing fiction in general, but I’d already read a lot of it before. The exercises might be helpful but they’d take a lot of time and energy that I just don’t feel like devoting to writing right now.

Josip Novakovich
Image via Concordia University

The section on revision had some good advice in it. I don’ think it would be great for a novel but it would be great for revising a short story. I liked the idea of outlining the first draft and then completely rewriting it. I think it would be interesting to see what was kept and what changed. I think I’d surprise myself with what I decided to keep.

I thought the section on beginnings and endings was a bit bland. There are so many ways to start a book that it felt weird to try to list them. Ending a book is really a matter of choice as long as the story arc is complete. So I think this could have been covered better under the section on plot structure. It all felt a little repetitive.

Novakovich gave a lot of examples. I think this speaks to a very basic and true lesson: learn by reading. You can’t learn to cook by watching TV the same way you can’t learn to swim online (sorry Big Bang Theory friends). If you want to learn to write, you have to read and you have to write. Reading and recognizing plot devices and distinct voices is a great way to experience it and see what others have done. Then, there’s nothing to it but the writing.

Writer’s Takeaway: This is a difficult subject to tackle. There are so many different stories to tell and so many ways to tell them that it seems odd to try to define them in a book. And each time a rule is developed, it’s already been broken and will be broken hundreds of times more. There are guidelines but anything too formulaic will be boring. There’s good advice but you have to be vague because there’s only so much direction you can give someone in a creative art.

Overall, helpful but not the motivation I wanted or much advice that I hadn’t heard. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovich: a Review | TAwrites