Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer
By: Bruce Holland Rogers
Word Work grew out of a column called “Staying Alive” that Bruce Holland Rogers writes forSpeculations magazine. Though the Speculations readership is primarily a science fiction bunch, the articles and subsequent book are not geared to any genre in particular. Writers in general can benefit from the book.
It’s important to note that the subtitle is not How to Write in the Style of Bruce Holland Rogers. In fact, there is little about the actual nuts and bolts of grammar or mechanics in the book. This is a book about being a writer. It’s about the daily mental and emotional struggles that underlie the false glamour of the writing profession. It’s about the shiny metal — and the rust patches — under the paint.
Rogers writes in a very personal, conversational style. Having participated in a Rogers workshop, I can say with confidence that his written voice in this book is very much like his teaching voice in person. Rogers doesn’t come across as a writer resting on his laurels and disseminating advice to the writing rabble; his conversational writing voice establishes a level of trust and equality early on. The book is written more on the level of peer teaching than mentor teaching, though it will likely spawn more than a few Rogers protégés.
The book is arranged in sections, with further breakdowns by chapter within the sections. (This organization is a good example of atomizing, Rogers’ recommended procedure for breaking large projects down into manageable chunks.) The table of contents includes one-line summaries of the topics covered in each chapter, so it is easy to find and re-read specific pieces. I think this will be a very handy feature for future review. On first reading, several sections seemed more applicable to my situation than others, but I can see how others could come to the forefront later.
The introduction is one of my favorite parts of the book. In it, Rogers introduces the concepts of Hunter and Farmer as personality types for writers. The Hunters are the writers who are always full of ideas and start many projects. They also tend to have trouble bringing most of these projects to fruition. Farmers, on the other hand, are able to stick with a project until it is done, but they are sometimes frustrated by the lack of ideas or the flatness with which their ideas hit the page. These personality type descriptions come from Thom Hartmann, a psychotherapist and writer from Vermont who has written several books about Attention Deficit Disorder, identifying ADD patients as “Hunters in a Farmer’s world.” Rogers, it turns out, has ADD, and makes it clear that he is writing from the perspective of a Hunter, but that writers need to create a balance between the Hunter and Farmer personality types to succeed in their work. His goal in the book is to give Hunters the tools to be better Farmers and vice versa.
To that end, the Hunters win out. Rogers has much more experience with being a Hunter, and is able to give more suggestions on how to deal with Hunter-type problems than Farmer problems. For me, this is good. I tend much more toward Hunter than Farmer in my life, and I was able to pick up some excellent motivational nuggets. Rogers doesn’t leave the Farmers completely out, though. He makes what suggestions he can, and defers to others with more experience in those matters when necessary.
For me, the most insightful and useful chapters of the book dealt with discipline, procrastination, rejection/acceptance (two edges of the same sword), success, and writing in a family environment. Down the road, other sections may appeal to me more, and each reader will find that different topics will appeal more to him than others. This is where Rogers’ wide range of writing experience comes into play; if you are experiencing it, chances are good that he has too, and he may have some valuable insights for you.
I found this book to be very easy to slip into. It dealt directly with some of my writing difficulties and aspirations. I also found the style to be refreshing, and less of a “this is how it should be done” manual than some of the other writing texts that I have read. For me, it worked, and I suspect that my copy will become well worn over time.
The book contains quite a lot of modern psychology, and some people will be tempted to dismiss it out of hand because of that. If you are resistant to the ideas of affirmation, neurolinguistic programming, and dream analysis, you would do well to take a deep, centering breath and overcome some of those prejudices before reading the book. If, after reading it, you still don’t want any part of the squishy science, that’s fine. Chances are good that you will have found something worthwhile in the book anyway.