"Writerrific: Creativity Training for Writers," Eva Shaw

Pros: Good advice and handy exercises
Cons: Not much meat on these bones
Rating: 3 out of 5

First published 5/29/2002

I fear that this will be one of my shorter reviews. At first glance, it seems this really shouldn’t be so. This is a 183-page book, after all. I should be able to find plenty to write about in there. Well, unfortunately, more than two-thirds of this book is blank. I know, I know – that’s kind of the point. But then I’m getting ahead of myself (as I am wont to do).

“Writeriffic” (silly name; silly cover; fun book) is subtitled: “Creativity Training for Writers.” The idea is that it gives hints, tips, and exercises that will help you to get past what author Eva Shaw calls “page fright” (I got a good chuckle out of that) and turn yourself into a font of creative ideas.

There’s Text In Them Thar Pages!

The book starts off with some text:

  • “How to Use Writerrific”
  • “Writeriffic and You: Styling Your Creative Life”
  • “Suffering For My Art? Not Me”
  • “Your Inner Writer”
  • “Writing and Your Life”
  • “Your Writer’s Voice”
  • “An Inspired Existence Made Easier”
  • “Creative Kick Starts”
  • “Can You Make It as a Writer?”

Don’t get excited just yet. These only take up about 14 pages total, largish print with very large section headings. However, I have to admit that the advice here is very useful. Ms. Shaw is the author of many (many!) books and magazine articles, and the teacher of an online class, and she has some very practical and handy advice to pass on.

Much of her advice is psychological in nature:

For the next few minutes, pretend a large box with a sturdy lid is sitting next to you. Take the lid off and imagine you’re jamming in all your favorite reasons and problems and excuses for not writing. You can even pretend that a complaining loved one, a boss, or a coworker is going inside. Put in the ones about being a ‘bad’ writer, not having a degree in journalism, or being forced to write without a rich relative to support you while you concentrate on creativity.

Ms. Shaw strikes a nice balance between encouraging anyone who wants to try to write, and reminding us that writing takes skill and work. (Too many writers go to one extreme or the other. Either they try to discourage potential writers of any type, leaving you feeling that you can’t even write for your own enjoyment, or they only discuss writing for your own enjoyment, without actually saying that they aren’t preparing you for possible publication.)

Like the training athletes and singers require … writing takes practice and practice takes time.

She has some handy (and sometimes slightly unconventional) ideas for increasing your creativity. One of those is to add non-writing creative activities to your life – like crafts, painting, playing an instrument, and so on. She has a decent list to get you started. She brings out the traditional (and effective) old writers’ suggestions: things like writing a page every day, and writing every day regardless of what else is going on in your life. There are some less-discussed things like not cleaning up your desk until you’re done with a project. She also discusses issues such as voice, rituals that many writers must perform before they start for the day, and so on. She doesn’t discuss any of these things in-depth, but she does touch on some good places to start.

What About the Exercises?

I think the exercises are good. Not stunning. Very few (if any) “oh my god, I never would have thought of that” moments. But certainly if you’re having trouble getting started, paging through the exercises provided here might get you going. Some of these are fairly traditional (pick a word at random from the dictionary and start writing on it). A few are actually a little different (cut photos from magazines of people and animals and match animal heads to people bodies. Write using your creation as a character).

Technically there are 19 exercises. Many of them have plenty of possible variations, however, so if you don’t get bored by them, they can keep you busy for a while.

Now, on the one hand, I’m glad Ms. Shaw provides a single blank page to go with each exercise. Knowing that you don’t have to go dig out a notebook might help lower the barriers of resistance when you’re trying to get yourself to do the first exercise or three. On the other hand, I hardly feel that it was necessary to make the latter two-thirds of the book entirely blank (in addition to the blank-page-per-exercise!). I mean, come on. The back of this book lists its price as $14.95. I can get a whole stack of cheap notebooks or scrap paper for that price! I would be much happier to pay a third of that (maybe half) for the part of the book that contained text and the exercises and buy my own paper. Ms. Shaw could have easily done this without sacrificing the single blank page to go with each exercise.

Teeny Tips

Scattered throughout the blank pages are little one-line pithy sayings and bits of advice. Some are humorous; some are handy; others are obvious. I wouldn’t say they particularly add value to the book, but they’re kind of cool.

If you find this one in the bargain bin or the library, it’s worth getting and reading (it isn’t like it’ll take you long to read, after all). It is not, however, worth the full cover price.

(Post-script: Hmm. Somehow I managed to find plenty to say about this book after all.)

Posted in Reviews, Writing

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