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» » Questions Writers Ask: Wise, Whimsical, and Witty Answers from the Pros
Questions Writers Ask: Wise, Whimsical, and Witty Answers from the Pros


Karen Speerstra


Questions Writers Ask: Wise, Whimsical, and Witty Answers from the Pros



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Robert Reed Publishers; 1 edition (January 1, 2010)




Writing Research and Publishing Guides



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Questions Writers Ask: Wise, Whimsical, and Witty Answers from the Pros by Karen Speerstra

For the first time, you'll find quotations about writing organized by and keyed to real questions writers and authors ask.from How do I get started? to Why do writers write, anyway? to What do I do about writer's block to Where do you get your ideas and 16 more. Authors' voices are heard here that appear in no other collection of writing quotes-lots of women, many recent writers-nearly 6,000 quotations. They offer at times whimsical, clever, witty, at times serious, and helpful insights into the writing game collected and organized by someone who has been in this game for three decades-writing, editing, publishing, consulting.Quotes are small gems of wisdom that I wish I had thought of. Some wise, some funny, some profound, but all enlightening. I only wish I had more room on my computer for more of the quotes from Karen Speerstra's clever book, QUESTIONS WRITERS ASK... This is a must-have book for any writer's library. ~Sue Viders, Author of Deal a Story (Card game) and HEROES AND HEROINES.
"Questions Writers Ask" is a surprising gift, a compilation of nearly 6,000 quotations addressing questions asked by real writers. Karen Speerstra has been painstakingly scrupulous in her task of gathering and selecting the quotes for this project.

Writers from the past some contemporaries, well known greats, recognized authors, and a number of upcoming more recent writers provide bits of wisdom, wit, insight and advice participating in a world wide forum in dialog across an imaginary common table.

Using a conversational approach, Karen presents fresh writing insights and small gems of wisdom explaining why writers write, practical ideas on play writing, poetry, comedy and satire. The quotes she uses are often funny, sometimes profound, and always enlightening or entertaining.

Among the twenty topics covered in the book, I personally appreciated the information on editors and publishers, the thoughts on handling criticism, and where writers get their ideas. I plan to implement many of the thoughts on personal writing: journals, diaries, and memoir. Getting started and facing up to writer's blocks were also very helpful. The chapter on writing specifically for children and adolescents is packed with information and inspiration.

Karen is the perfect one to compile this book. Her thirty year career in publishing encompasses writing, acquisitions, newspaper columns, curriculum writing, and developmental editing.

"Questions Writers Ask" is destined to become a classic. I am adding it to my own permanent library to be read and re-read often for sheer enjoyment.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.
Questions Writers Ask is a compendium of quotes and insights organized around twenty topics relevant to writers. Karen Speerstra has arranged them so they can be read as a conversation among some of the most wittiest and insightful writers around. On one page alone, about why writers write, we read Anais Nin comment that "The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say," and hear Groucho Marx retort, "Practically everyone in New York has half a mind to write a book, and does." As a writer for over thirty years and author of four books, I found this book delightful, helpful, and just plain fun to pick up and read. I recommend this book to everyone who is compelled to pick up a pen or sit in front of a screen and challenge themselves to think clearly and write from the heart. "Good writing is essentially clear thinking made visible," wrote Ambrose Bierce. Start your engines. Pick up this book and get inspired.

Alan Briskin, author of The Stirring of Soul in the Workplace and co-author of The Power of Collective Wisdom, Daily Miracles, and Bringing Your Soul to Work
Undeniably, the epigram is limited by its very pithiness, as it always attempts to marry profundity to brevity, broad statement to precision, and irony to earnestness. In Karen Speerstra's ample collection of quotes on writing Questions Writer's Ask, the epigram (not to mention the writers and critics who coined them) is on full display in all its glorious wit, wisdom, pomp and pettiness. Organized around 20 questions that writers often ask and laid out like a loose conversation, a wide variety of writers, past and present, provide the answers.

It's the kind of guilty pleasure teachers, writers, and those who write about writing (bloggers!) will delight in, especially when reaching for a quote and you can't quite put your finger on who said it, or exactly how it goes. It's hard not to be won over with witty gems like this one from Nabokov in the introduction: "Turning one's novel into a movie script is rather like making a series of sketches for a painting that has long ago been finished and framed." One of those pleasures are the moments of recognition when we see our own experience reflected in a quote and feel at once that we belong to the club, as I did at J.P Donleavy's remark from the chapter "Why do Writer's Write, anyway?": "The purpose of writing is to make your mother and father drop dead with shame." Or this in the same chapter from Nelson Algren: "You don't write a novel out of sheer pity any more than you blow a safe out of a vague longing to be rich. A certain ruthlessness and a sense of alienation from society is as essential to creative writing as it is to armed robbery."

Of course, the epigram can easily fall pray to oversimplification as in this one from Tolstoy: "There is nothing in the world that should not be expressed in such a way that an affectionate seven year old boy can see and understand it." I mean, do you know any seven year old that could tackle War and Peace? And why an affectionate boy? Do we only talk down to boys who are surly and aloof? It's a bit too simplistic to work as statement, and too specific to work as metaphor. The epigram can also fall victim to stylistic or metaphoric excess, as it does here with Gertrude Stein: "To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write." How do we know that to write is to write without at least one more to write is to write? And in this overblown bit from Isaac Asimov: "I write for the same reason I breathe--because if I didn't, I would die."

All of this points out the seductive power and the folly of the epigram, even the quotation lifted out of context, and of our ambivalence towards that very pithiness we mistrust and the skill in it that keeps us quoting and wishing we'd thought of it. In the best hands these epigrams have a power to convey some experiential truth that undeniably reminds of our priorities as writers. This from James Joyce: "To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!...On and on and on and on!" Speerstra records the poignancy of what happens when we get caught between those warring priorities in this quote from Melville: "Dollars damn me; and the malicious Devil is forever grinning in upon me, holding the door ajar...What I feel most moved to write, that is banned--it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches."

The lingering question is how best to read a completely epigrammatic text? It can be rather like reading through the Psalms of the Bible, some verses are striking, while others don't especially move us. There is a certain amount of reinforcing repetition and it doesn't matter in which order you read the chapters. Yet, if you take a single chapter and read it through you will discern Speerstra's subversive humor. In fact she makes sure to capture writers not only at their wisest and wittiest, but also at their surliest. At one point, in the deliciously wicked chapter, "How do you handle criticism?", Mark Twain, with increasing savagery, keeps horning into the conversation of quotes like a man obsessed with the "merits" of Jane Austen. Even as you laugh, quotes like this one from Borges--"A writer should have another lifetime to see if he's appreciated"--bring home the sting of harsh criticism and indifference that is an unavoidable part of the writer's life. In this chapter alone, you can certainly find quotes that make you question both the writer's wisdom and the wisdom of being a writer. What I like most about Questions Writers Ask is the way some of our guides and their quotes act a little like unreliable narrators in fiction. Does being pithy and funny make what you say true? When there are contradictions between writers, who do you trust and who do you dismiss? A nobel prize winning novelist fueled by alcohol, or a children's author we've never heard of? Speerstra isn't interested in arbitrating. It is up to the reader. The kinds of writers and answers you are drawn to may say something about the kind of writer you want to be, or perhaps only about the skill of the epigramists themselves, perhaps least about their reliability as instructors in the writer's life. It reminds me of the old adage: Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.
Since I teach creative writing, I get mailed new texts on the subject every semester, like clockwork. And they're all more or less the same: reasonably sensible, totally boring. Students tune them out almost immediately, and I'm not far behind them. But QUESTIONS WRITERS ASK takes a totally different tack. It's just fantastic, aphoristic quotes by well-known writers. It's amazingly good reading, partially because it doesn't venture any grand system, just quick powerful hits. Read this book for 20 minutes, and I guarantee you'll spark a new novel, or a short story unlike anything you've ever written before.
Thank you, Karen Speerstra, for this wish list of writers' wisdom - and humor. I love this book and pick it up often for a dose of inspiration. As a professional writer I need all the support I can find. Thank you this super gift....and yours! Keep on inspiring us!

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