The Best Writing on Writing by Jack Heffron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This collection of essays from 1993 by poets, writers, and academics offers a rich variety of criticism and meditations on the art of writing.
I confess to skipping a few of the essays in the book (mostly the drier academic ones like Adrienne Rich's "Someone is Writing a Poem" or Carolyn G. Heilbrun's "Women and Biography"). The most accessible essays were from literary magazines and newspapers: Donald Hall's "The Books Not Read, the Lines Not Written: A Poet Confronts His Mortality" for the New York Times Book Review, or the funny "The Screenwriter's Lexicon" by David Freeman from The New Yorker. Another I especially enjoyed was "Mistakes People Make About Poetry" by James Fenton.
There's a fair amount of pretentious fluff, but you may find a few gems here about the slippery, hard-to-describe craft of writing. There are many, many wonderful essay collections out there for fans of the genre. Two of my favorites are A Passion for Books edited by Harold Rabinowitz, and the The Best American Essays of the Century, edited by Joyce Carol Oates
"Depressed over my probable brevity, I find my reading mocked by my own acquisitiveness. Part of my pleasure in reading has always been pride in accumulation. I read to use what I read, for understanding and for writing; take away that future use and my reading mocks me: if I am not to live more than a wretched year or two, what am I reading for? I should be able to read for the joy of a book's beauty but I cannot." - Donald Hall, "The Books Not Read, the Lines Not Written: A Poet Confronts His Mortality"
"The impulse, at least for someone of the writerly persuasion, is not to bemoan this condition but to remark it in detail. Initially, one's motives for translating happenstance into acts of language may be quite private. Catastrophe tends to be composed not of a monolithic event but of a welter of little incidents, many of which bear no apparent relationship to one another, and language, in ordering these into recognizable patterns, counteracts disorientation and disintegration. This process of making sense of a flood of random data also produces the impression - generally quite groundless - of control, which may save one's sanity even though it can't save one's own or anyone else's life." - Nancy Mairs, "The Literature of Personal Disaster"
"Womjep: A woman in jeopardy; sometimes called femjep. It's a hardy perennial among movie plots, from 'The Perils of Pauline' to 'Slumber Party Massacre.' The fems in jep were once beautiful and helpless and had torn clothes. They're still beautiful, but now they're often surgeonsor architects in torn clothes." - David Freeman, "The Screenwriter's Lexicon"
"The bottom line on character invention: people in fiction must have intelligible, supportable reasons for what they do and say, which is possible only if their behavior is motivated by factors a reader can understand and verify from evidence in the story. Unlike flesh-and-blood humans, story personae, however weird, must behave in ways that make some kind of sense; if they don't, their 'mystery' stays unsolved, unsolvable, pointless." - Ben Nyberg, "Why Stories Fail"