Non-Fiction / Inspirational
Writing Past Dark:
Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life
Written by: Bonnie Friedman
Published By: Harper Perennial
Reviewed by Justine Manzano
If you’ve ever written anything at all, you know the feeling. You are sitting at your desk, struggling to put even the most mundane thoughts together, when every negative thing that has ever been said about you begins to float through your mind. Better watch your commas – your fifth grade school teacher told you that you forget your commas. It goes from there all the way to the fact that your mother never thought you could make it through college, so you must be, inherently, a failure to your core. Whether it is a term paper or your first attempt at a novel, you’ve felt this nagging, often frightening, but at the least, never pleasant feeling. Now, imagine that writing what you are struggling to write is your livelihood. What now? How do you write with all that pressure? This and other writer dilemmas are explored by one Ms. Bonnie Friedman, a writer herself, in the book Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life.
Friedman touches on the things in writing that don’t often get books written about them. Dozens of books are written from year to year about writing technique and how to get published, but leave topics like the psychology of the writer by the wayside. Set as a series of essays, Friedman explores the little things that come up in a writer’s life, all of which I find that I have experienced in my time as a writer.
In her essay entitled, “Envy, The Writer’s Disease,” Friedman discusses the crippling effect that the success of others can have on your work and discusses that feeling one gets when one looks at a book cover and sees a much younger face staring out. This can compare to the feeling I get when I look at one of the attorney’s I am a secretary for, who happens to be only one year older than me, or the feeling I get when my husband receives greater writing praise than I do. Then there’s “Messages from a Cloud of Flies,” a piece that tackles distraction. How easily have I found myself paying attention to anything, ANYTHING else but my writing? “Your Mother’s Passions, Your Sister’s Woes,” centers around the fear that all writer’s have about choosing subject matter – and about the fact that all of the subject matter we think about is usually the more taboo stuff, the stuff that is harder to discuss then just the regular old, ho-hum story, it’s about the fear that we all have about writing about people, and what they will then think about being written about.
The essay, “The Paraffin Destiny of Wax Wings” is about writing school, and about how much it really can teach you. Can the creative be taught, or only the structure of the creative? Can we learn more about words without ever being able to learn the correct way to use them? “The Wild Yellow Circling Beast,” discusses finding your words in yourself instead of writing like somebody else. “The Story’s Body,” discusses the fear that many writers have of the idea that all writing must have some deep meaning buried within it, which readers can uncover. “Anorexia of Language,” discusses the controversial topic of writer’s block, an illness which I am currently facing and which a friend of mine recently told me doesn’t exist, which made me want to hurt him a little. Believe me, contrary to popular belief, writer’s block does exist and when it happens, it hurts. Friedman gives little tips on coming to terms with why the block is occurring, and this makes the essay particularly helpful. Finally, “Glittering Icons, Lush Orchards,” discusses what it is actually like to succeed as a writer, and what it truly means for you, as well as how likely it all is.
Writing Past Dark is a wonderful and inspirational writing book that discusses the less discussed topics of writing. Though, at times, Friedman’s writing can be a little too flowery to fully get the point across, this book has moments of pure genius-like wisdom, which is worth reading through the messages that are drowned in over-drawn prose. Writing Past Dark does something rare in writing books. It reminds us that all writers start from some place – our hearts. This book is a must for all writing students, whether you are in formal training or just the school of life.