November 23, 2010


The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide:
Advice from an Unrepentant Novelist

John McNally

Working Writer – From time to time, I have the pleasure (and it truly is a privilege, as well) to appear as the guest speaker in college English and fiction-writing classes. In each class, I suggest the students read a few particular books: Strunk and White’s classic “Elements of Style,” Francine Prose’s invaluable “Reading Like a Writer,” and David Lodge’s insightful “The Art of Fiction.” Strunk and White provide essential tips on grammar and style. Francine Prose dissects the tools every wordsmith uses to construct a story: words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, details and gesture. And while several books are titled “The Art of Fiction” – and almost all are quite worthwhile – I emphasize Lodge because of his colorful analysis of narrative form. I will visit Columbia College Chicago next week and there, as well as in all future talks, I will add a fourth book to my list of recommended reading: John McNally’s “The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide.” McNally is the author of three novels and two short story collections. He also has edited six anthologies. He’s spent some time at Columbia, too. In this book, McNally offers something many writers will warmly welcome: sound, practical, candid advice without bravado or romance on what it takes and what it means to be a working writer. He writes about perseverance and durability. He notes how writers must love sentences – which means loving (or, at least, respecting) punctuation and spelling if you’re serious about controlling point-of-view and narrative voice. He reviews the particulars of various educational degrees, offers suggestions on giving and receiving feedback in a writing workshop, and shares useful tips from his front-line experiences getting published and trying to get published. With this book, John McNally is the accomplished brother every artist needs.

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