WRITER'S GYM: EXERCISES AND TRAINING TIPS FOR WRITERS edited by Eliza Clark (Penguin), 188 pages, $19 paper. Rating: NNN
Except for one, each of the 33 working novelists, short story writers and poets assembled in Writer's Gym delivers practical tips in plain English for the practising writer.
These range from the micro (the use of adverbs) to the macro (creating character) and stray occasionally from the work itself to essential aspects of a writer's life, like how to carve out time or cope with blocks.
The one exception is Margaret Atwood, who uses the story form to deliver her one bit of advice: put your soul into it. That's true enough and needs to be said, but without a bit of how-to it's not very useful. She also suggests rationing the amount of soul allotted to each work.
The other contributors, including Douglas Coupland, Val McDermid and Priscila Uppal, weigh in with specific tips, exercises, advice and suggested readings, interspersed with brief passages about their own work methods.
Some is familiar stuff ritualize your writing habits, eavesdrop on conversations but much isn't, and all of it gets an invigorating individual spin that inspires without ever resorting to hype. This is a group who knows their audience.
Every essay is tightly focused, five pages tops for most, and any who write longer have good reason. Steven Heighton discusses writing as re-enactment, a big philosophical topic, you'd think. But he nails his point in a discussion of the use of "stumbles" in a specific sentence. Elizabeth Ruth offers a method using coloured markers to come to grips with a novel's structure.
The exercises are challenging, fun and occasionally bizarre. Gail Anderson-Dargatz advises walking barefoot over a bristly welcome mat. Much of this counsel has been tested in writing classes, and Clark has penned a closing section designed specifically for writers' workshops.
Overall, very good value for writers and fun for non-writers who'd like a glimpse of how the job is done.