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Book Reviews
Book Reviews – February
By Anthony Ackerley
February, 2007, 08:50

Tune into IN reviews for the best of books about writing – all genres – from high adventure to haiku, from fact to fiction, cookbooks to commentary, and much, much more. Always check IN to see what's in. We only publish the best and our rating scale below is based upon the values of the three Es: Ease To Read, Educational, and Entertaining. If you have a how-to-write book that you would like us to read and possibly write a review about (we only publish reviews of books that we deem are best of the best) please send it to us. Our snail mail address can be found on our Contacting IN page.

Title: Writing On Both Sides Of The Brain
Author: Henriette Anne Klauser
Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco
ISBN #: 006254490X
IN Rating:

Review: From the professional writer, to the hobbyist, to the new bride struggling over what to write on her thank you cards, anyone who writes can take something away from this book.

Writing On Both Sides Of The Brain is primarily about identifying, acknowledging, and ultimately controlling your Inner Critic. That voice inside every writer's head that tells them they're not good enough, that their idea is pathetic, that their story/article/report/letter is all wrong. Klauser maintains that if you use her techniques you will learn to use that voice to your advantage, working with it instead of against it, and as a result, over time your work output will grow exponentially.

Essentially, this book is a series of exercises; a step by step process aimed at helping any writer improve their craft. One of the things that impressed me most was how Klauser maintained an intimate feeling to this book. Through light and at times humorous language, it felt as if I was getting advice from an old friend, not reading a book. This feeling began immediately with the first exercise which asks the reader to list their thoughts about writing and what it is they would like to change about their own. That interaction forces readers to truly think about their goals and ambitions, as well as confront their own short-comings/road blocks, which can be difficult on your own. This personal intimacy is carried throughout the book in each exercise.

The pacing of this book is exceptional. There is just the right balance of detail. Sometimes in how-to books such as this one, the author can bog down the reader with too much instruction, or go off on a tangent of personal experience, making it read more like a biography. This is not helpful to the reader. Klauser manages to use personal experiences to reinforce the content, not detract from it. As a woman who has taught writer's workshops across the country for all walks of life, Klauser's experiences are a valuable teaching tool for writers.

I had seen several of the techniques in this book presented elsewhere with different names. For example, Klauser talks about "Rapidwriting", the process of writing continuously for a set period of time, where subject, style, and structure don't matter, just the fact that you are writing. This is a well-known concept to many writers, also called "Freewriting" or "Autowriting" among other names. While the concept is not original, Klauser's take on it made me want to use the technique, where other's presentations of it did not. This holds true for any of the exercises in this book (the chapter on dealing with procrastination is reason enough in itself to read this book).

Ultimately, I believe that this book will leave its readers feeling energized and eager to get to work. If you're a writer who has been feeling stuck, or overwhelmed by writer's block or that overly critical voice in your head, this book is a must read. It gives you license to use your creativity while teaching how to use that critical voice to mold your work into the best it possibly can be.

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Title: Zen In The Art Of Writing
Author: Ray Bradbury
Publisher: Bantam Books
ISBN #: 0553296345
IN Rating:

Review: If you're an aspiring writer and a fan of Ray Bradbury, it is likely that you will enjoy this book. If you're an aspiring writer and not particularly a fan, break out your prospector's hat because you'll need to do some mining.

In Zen In The Art Of Writing, Bradbury gives his advice on what it takes to become a successful writer, and then relates it to his own work; constantly. There were times when I wondered if I was reading a how-to book, or a catalog of his short stories and novels. I generally find no fault with this, as it helps the reader understand and see these techniques in action. However, there is a fine line between enough detail and too much, and Bradbury crosses this line quite frequently. He advocates using a word list of simple, every day words (i.e. The Meadow, The Toy Chest, The Monster) and using that list to generate story ideas. This is an excellent bit of advice, and can be highly effective for a writer, as Bradbury illustrates when he tells the reader which of his stories were generated using this method. Maybe it wasn't all of them, but it seemed like it. I would have liked to see one or two examples given, and then a summary rather than a large list.

The strength of this book comes when Bradbury forgets to provide examples and just speaks on the process of writing. His love for the creative process and how to nurture it shines through in these instances and makes this book a worthy read. Using a zen-like philosophy, Bradbury boils the whole process down into four words: “Work. Relaxation. Don't Think.” This ideal, along with its accompanying explanation was one I could agree with and felt would help with my writing.

Overall, there are several ideas and bits of advice in this book that have great value to any writer, unfortunately it can be somewhat of a challenge finding them. I would recommend borrowing this book from your local library, giving it a read, and noting down what you find most helpful. Unlike some other books of this nature, I don't think the average person would come back to this one repeatedly for advice. Bradbury's over abundance of examples slows down an otherwise good read.

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Title: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN #: 0684853523
IN Rating:

Review: One of the most well-known authors of any generation offers readers a direct and honest insight into the world of writing and the tools one should possess if they hope to become a success.

On Writing is part autobiography, part how-to guide, and a completely enjoyable read. This book is well paced, easy to read, and highly informative, everything one would come to expect from Stephen King (minus the boogeyman waiting to get you when you turn out the light).

The book begins with a retelling of King's life from early childhood to present day showcasing his journey from imaginative child to prolific author. For fans of King's work it should prove to be a fascinating read as he explains how he came upon the ideas for many of his well known works. For people who just want to hear him speak on writing, the book is divided into sections so it is easy to skip over the first part and get right down to it.

King's advice itself is simple and, at many times, refreshing in its honesty. He often chooses to focus on the basic fundamentals of writing; the techniques and necessities that many of us begin to lose sight of from time to time. Using the analogy of a toolbox, he advises that any aspiring writer constructs their own mental toolbox and carry it with them wherever they go. Building upon things such as vocabulary, grammar, style, theme, and other literary essentials that are simple in concept, but difficult to master. King offers advice and examples on how to utilize each element or "tool" and why they are important, often citing his own work, as well as the work of others. In addition to his advice on the technical aspect of writing, King also touches on what comes after the writing process when the writer wishes to find representation (a literary agent) or attempt to get published.

On Writing offers beginners and professionals alike a complete package of direction and wisdom to aid them in their journey. Personally, I have read this book cover to cover several times and always find something new to enjoy about it. It is a how-to book that reads like a story you can't put down. For that fact alone, I can recommend this book. As a source about writing, there is enough information in these pages to keep a writer coming back time and time again. Keep this book close to wherever it is you practice your craft; it will do nothing but help.

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If you like this review, take a look at Our Members Library Of Recommended Reading for books that have made a significant difference in our members' writing careers.

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Anthony Ackerley is a professional writer who lives in south west Ohio. He has worked writing for a newspaper, been published in an online children's magazine, and currently has an adult romantica novel out. He enjoys sports, cooking, and playing games. See his novel at

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