Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Why We Write by Meredith Maran

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Why We Write by Meredith Maran is a collection of twenty essays written by published novelist on the topic of why (and sometimes how) each author goes about the crafting fiction. Each essay is preceded by an introduction of the author and a “Vitals” bulleted list of highlights about the author (born, education, where they live, complete list of works, etc.). Each essay concludes with a “Wisdom for Writers” section, a bulleted list of take-away points the author made in his or her essay.

A portion of the proceeds of the book are given to support 826 National, a youth literacy program.

The editor pulled together a diverse collection of authors. Some of them include Sue Grafton, David Baldacci, Gish Jen, Armistead Maupin, and Terry McMillan. Not only are they diverse in gender, sexual orientation, culture, and race, but they are exist on various points of the “literary vs entertainment” spectrum of publishing. This topic comes up in a number of the essays. Some authors embrace the literary or entertainment camp to which they belong, others take the opportunity to bash the opposing side.  More than a few authors dismiss this continuum as a marketing or hegemonic device designed to pander to a certain demographic. The later essays were the most interesting.    

While the book presented a diverse collection of viewpoints, I couldn’t help but notice that certain genres were left out. There were authors from “mainstream” literature as well as the mystery and thriller genres. However, there were no authors of speculative or YA books.  Why We Write was published in 2013, during the time when these genres were rapidly gaining in both popularity and recognition as quote-unquote “serious” forms of literature. It could be that the author reached out to some of these authors and they weren’t interested or couldn’t fit a contribution into their schedules. However, I can’t help but feel that including authors from these backgrounds would further round out the book and the discussion of why individuals feel compelled to write fiction.

The twenty authors in the book state a wide array of reasons behind why they do what they do. However, one central theme crops up in each of their responses: Writing sucks, but not writing sucks worse; one never feels that a piece is completely finished, but having written is a wonderful feeling.

As someone who dabbles in writing and is always looking for more time to complete larger projects, I completely agree. And, in it’s own dark way, it is comforting to read twenty writers state that they belong in the same mental hell that is being a writing human. I think I’ll keep the book on my desk for inspiration and comfort the next time I find myself banging my head against the wall when writing gets difficult.      

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