In the second volume of original essays drawn from the long-running New York Times column, Writers on Writing, Volume II brings together yet another remarkable group of celebrated writers to muse on the challenges and gifts of language and creativity.
Like the essays in Volume I, which were praised for their "overwhelming generosity of spirit," the essays here range from acerbic, hilarious advice for aspiring writers to thoughtful, soul-wrenching reflections on writing in the midst of tragedy. In an essay written only days after September 11, 2001, Mary Karr reminds us of literature's healing power, urging readers to turn to lyric poetry during such periods as it "dispenses more relief—if not actual salvation—during catastrophic times than perhaps any art form." Some, like Susan Isaacs, reveal that writers, like readers, can feel strong nostalgia for long-retired protagonists, so much so that "I didn't want to miss one word she said, or one second of her companionship. After all, who knows if she and I will ever meet again?" Many explore the tensions between fact and fiction, such as Anna Quindlen's discovery that "when I was writing about the people I actually met and the places I actually went, the enterprise was enshadowed by reader suspicion that we reporters made everything up. But when I made things up as a novelist, readers always suspected I was presenting a thinly disguised version of the facts of my own life." And in a pithy exercise, Elmore Leonard shares his most important rule for letting the writing, and not the writer, take charge: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."
As Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley notes in her introduction, "all these writers . . . give something away that perhaps they had never given away before, some item or craft or privacy or self-doubt." Always surprising, often inspiring, Writers on Writing offers revealing views of the writer's world.