Pros: More exercises (“prompts”) than you’ll ever use; lots of helpful advice
Cons: A somewhat mundane feel
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
First published 2/17/2002
I admit it – I like writing exercises and warm-ups. Well, the interesting ones, anyway. Even if you don’t actually perform the exercises, just thinking about them can often give you new and interesting ideas that you might not have thought of on your own. Jack Heffron’s “The Writer’s Idea Book” is a very good specimen of a book of writers’ exercises. It mixes “prompts” of various sorts (more than 400 of them according to the cover, and I believe it!) with short riffs of practical advice on a wide range of writing matters.
The last book I reviewed (“Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer”) approached things from an almost entirely practical standpoint – what will get you published? This book puts that concern in a secondary position, and concentrates instead on writing for yourself. Much of the advice is still very practical, however, so even if you’re trying to get published you’ll find it useful. Heffron is an editor, after all, so of course he’s going to give us information on which techniques seem to work best, even while explaining how to play with the others.
First, the Good Stuff
Wow… where to start? Is it the discussion on point of view that does a better job of presenting the pros and cons of your basic options than most other discussions I’ve seen? Is it the sheer volume of prompts – making sure that no matter what, you’ll always be able to find one that inspires you? Or is it the fact that I actually like the examples that he uses from his own writing, and come out of them convinced that I’m learning from someone who really knows what he’s doing?
“Bending and Stretching,” the first part, is a good starter. Some of the prompts are meant to help you slough off the demons of procrastination and “but I don’t have the time.” It does a good job of this. Unlike most writing books, when it says, “well, you just have to sit down and write,” it actually backs that up with a few hints for battling your demons and making it happen.
There are many prompts meant to help you mine your own experiences for ideas and plots. Not just your experiences, but your likes and dislikes, your family, your home town, places you’ve visited, “public moments,” secrets, dreams, and more. There are prompts to help you explore different forms of writing, explore characters, structure your story, and more. There are even good solid hints on dealing with openings and endings.
Just One Thing…
In fact, about the only thing that bothered me was the lack of the unusual. I admit it – I love genre. Horror, science fiction, fantasy – I love the strange This book had a very “literary” feel to it. I’m sure that’ll make it perfect for many other writers out there, but it left me a little flat. It left the book feeling very… mundane. I like to have a certain otherworldliness come into play when looking through lots of writing exercises and warm-ups. This book is much more meant to push you into finding inspiration from the ordinary than the extraordinary, and I would have liked a better balance.
Mind you, you might not notice this failing quite as much if you don’t read the book from cover to cover. And only a real nut-case like me would read 400 prompts from cover to cover. So take my objections with the traditional grain of salt, and enjoy the flood of ideas!