The Writer’s Notebook is a collection of essays on writing from the book publishing branch of Tin House, which also puts out a well regarded literary journal featuring many of today’s promising contemporary writers. And every summer since 2003, Tin House has put together a writer’s workshop at Reed College in Portland, Oregon featuring many of those writers. This collection of essays mostly comes from those workshops, though a few were written explicitly for the book or taken from lectures delivered elsewhere. Whatever their origin, the essays are a fascinating look at the writing process by an eclectic group of writers, with topics ranging from narrative theory to how to write sex scenes. If you are looking for an explicit “how to” manual which explains where you need to be in the plot by page five, this is not the book for you. But if you find it exciting to dip into the thoughts of writers grappling with the questions that arise from trying to bring a narrative to life, you will love this collection.
Lee Montgomery in the forward to the book lays out the premise: “The only real way to learn how to [write] is to read the work of authors who write well and to, well, write — a lot. Along the way, of course, it is always helpful — and interesting — to talk or listen to writers discuss their process and the work of other writers.” The Writer’s Notebook is meant to help with the discussion aspect for those not lucky enough to attend a workshop like Tin House’s summer Oregon retreat. The line up of authors is wonderful, with 17 different essays covering enough ground to offer something of interest to anyone fascinated by the process of writing.
Dorothy Allison writes about the definition of place, Steve Almond gives advice on writing sex scenes, Margot Livesey explains what Shakespeare teaches writers, Jim Shepard talks about writing fiction from history, and the list goes on. The tone of the essays ranges from conversational to somewhat academic, but all are beautifully written and together they give an insight into the current methods of teaching writing in workshops.