Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Book Review:
Room to Write: Daily Invitations 
to a Writer's Life
,  by Bonni Goldberg

Reviewed by 
JD Cates
2003, JD Cates
 

have an ugly confession to make: Until January of this year, I suffered from a writer's block that had lasted roughly 15 years. I would sit down to write a short story, lock up, and give up on myself. I would try a few more times. Then, a few days (or weeks or months) later, I would go grab a book on creative writing to try and get myself jumpstarted again. But all the books seemed to fall into one of three categories, and none of them seemed to help. 

The first were what I call "Standards of Good Writing." These offered necessary but dry instruction on grammar, spelling, character and plotline. Great information, but my creative side would usually wind up afraid to say anything for fear of failing to dot an I, cross a T, or explain my character properly.   

So, I would try what I call the "Creativity is All" books. Here I would find advice on describing something 15 different ways, or exercises like standing on my head to get a different perspective of the world. My rational side would balk, wondering just what any of this had to do with simply telling the stories in my head!  

And, finally, there were the "How I Do It" books.  These were books by established writers explaining how they applied various items from the first two categories. They were great reading and had some good information; unfortunately, most of the writers would turn right around and emphasize that ultimately I had to find my own voice and do it my own way--but they never managed to give much help on discovering just what "my voice" or "my own way" was.  

Thank goodness for Bonni Goldberg, and thank goodness I found her book. Drawing on over 20 years' experience, this writer, poet, and creative writing teacher avoided a variety of pitfalls to achieve something rare indeed. In Room to Write, Ms. Goldberg has created 200 simple writing exercises that: a) explain a concept to the rational brain, b) engage the creative side in exploring it on paper, and c) draw out the reader/writer's own voice in the process.  

The lessons cover everything from plot, characterization, and common themes in literature to exploring thoughts, experiences, and pitfalls that only a writer would understand. The ultimate goal of the book, though, is to coax the writer to apply pen to paper--or fingers to keyboard--and write. It's something Goldberg does well. 

The exercises are easy and nonjudgmental.  They are constructed in such a way that they can be tried more than once, and many are open enough that they can easily be applied to a work in progress. In addition to the choices on how to complete most lessons, the author encourages us to tackle them in any order; structure is simply not allowed to interfere with what we need to write. 

Rather, the structure of the book itself quietly supports the writer's life. Each lesson has been fit on a single page, and the publisher has thoughtfully given us the book as a 5"x7" paperback. It's a compact little companion that can be toted around as easily as note paper or a laptop; portability, which can so quickly become a hindrance to actually using a book like this, is simply not an issue. 

The overall result is a book that is all that the title promises and more: a perpetual invitation to live a writer's life today.  I encourage any creative writer who has ever had trouble getting the words to flow to go out, grab a copy, and guard it like it was gold. It could easily become your new best friend--constantly calling you to sit down, be kind to yourself, and write.

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Room to Write: Daily Invitations to a Writer's Life
by Bonni Goldberg
Publisher: J. P. Tarcher (April 1996) 
ISBN: 0-87477-825-5