The Poetry Home Repair Manual book review

Tonight I started reading Ted Kooser’s ‘The Poetry Home Repair Manual.’ Mr. Kooser is the US Poet Laureate, so of course I thought that the experience of reading this book, which has been recommended to me repeatedly as the best book for beginning poets, would be something on the scale of a root canal.

It is SO not that! I am on chapter one and I am laughing. Ted Kooser is a jewel, a down to earth, genuine, and delightful person. I was so impressed and I’m enjoying this book so much that I decided to stop and make myself a cup of hot tea with lemon and share with you an excerpt from the first chapter.

Speaking of himself as a young poet, Mr. Kooser says, “I let my hair grow longer and tried to grow a beard. I carried big fat books wherever I went–like Adolph Harnack’s ‘Outlines of the History of Dogma’ and Kierkegaard’s ‘Fear and Trembling.’ I couldn’t have understood a word of these books if I’d tried, but they looked really good clenched under my arm.”  Ha! Who of us that have been writing poetry since we were in our teens cannot relate?

So many things to write, so little time

It’s after midnight and I am back up out of bed after trying to go to sleep and failing. I often come to this point late at night, the point where I lie in bed, thinking of all the stories I have to tell, but overwhelmed by how in the world I can tell them all in the years I have left. I am 51, that’s not old, and with God’s grace, I will live to be an old woman, but where do I begin? Can I say everything I want to say in poetic form? I’m not sure. I keep coming back to the thought that I want to tell the story of my son. He committed suicide last April at the age of 30. I can’t do that in a poem. And then the idea comes to me that maybe I should write a non fiction book, a book to help other parents who have lost children to suicide.

Then I think of how hard it would be, and not just the emotional part, but making sure it got published, that the work I put into it would reach those who need to read it, those who it might do some good. And behind this thought comes the fear that I will taint the memory of my son. Would he want me to tell his story?  I wonder. I wonder all the time about all kinds of stuff, about human nature and life. I spend a lot of time thinking about the past. I never thought I’d be the kind of person who lived there, and it’s not as if I DO live there, but sometimes the past feels much more preferable to the present under the circumstances.  But I ramble.

I fell in love with my computer

I have the computer to thank for my decision to start writing. (real romantic, huh?)

I had always dabbled in poetry, had my first poem published in my high school paper. But it had never crossed my mind to write anything else. For one I was busy living life, then raising kids, working, and for another, my handwriting sucks! I didn’t get bitten by the writing bug until my husband and I got together–he’s a geek–and a computer became a necessary part of my household for the first time. I thought, what the heck? I can type, why not tell the story of that crazy dream I couldn’t get out of my head? The one about the talking Iguana who ate the family Daschund.

Before I started, I went to the library and got two or three of the books on writing I listed in a previous post. And I was hooked. I had found my calling, and I still wonder what took me so long. The passion those authors felt for their craft was palpable, and infectious, the guidance they offered priceless. I knew in my bones that I could write, I had a poet’s heart, after all.

I read every book I listed for you in another post. It’s my opinion that no one should even attempt to be a writer  until they have read most of those books. And no, they can’t give you talent if you don’t already possess it, but there are so MANY things a writer needs to know, I can’t imagine a person sitting down without some kind of training and writing a great story. I’m sure there are exceptions, there are to everything, but writing takes discipline, and that’s the most important thing I feel books like this offer. Next to inspiration. Then there is the fact that if you have read the history of someone like Stephen King and how many times he was rejected when he first started, you will not become nearly as discouraged when you must deal with your own.

Some people take classes, and I suppose being in the company of other writers would be inspiring, but I don’t really feel taking a creative writing class is necessary, maybe enjoyable, and educational, but from what I’ve heard, taking a class often stifles a writer’s individuality. Bottom line, I think it’s a choice and not a requirement.

Three years after reading those books, I would consider these things the most important aspects of writing:

1. A writer is like a movie camera.

2. Use all five senses-taste, touch, smell, hearing, sight-to place the reader totally in the scene.

3. Good writing lets the reader forget they are reading.

Losing yourself in a world you create is heady stuff. And the sense of accomplishment and pride you feel when you get that first piece published is addictive, intoxicating. I have said many times since I began that I will write until they pry my bony fingers from this keyboard.

Best books for fiction writers

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

How to Grow a Novel by Sol Stein

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Dare to be a Great Writer: 329 Keys to Powerful Fiction by Leonard Bishop

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of The Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction by John Dufresne

On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner

Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown

A writer's relationship with God

I have been hanging out on writer’s message boards for two years almost everyday, and something has occurred to me. The majority of the ones I’ve come in contact with don’t believe in God. You know why I think that is? Because writers have huge egos and they secretly believe themselves to be gods of a sort. And I mean really, if you think about it, they came by this naturally. They are, after all, creating and destroying worlds in their fiction, killing off the bad guys, rewarding the good guys, eliminating characters upon a whim.

That’s powerful stuff. (I hope you realize this is the wild rambling of an over-active imagination.)  But do you know why I love this blog much more than posting on a message board? (off topic here, but humor me, and this IS something I am going to address in a later post, the strange and often disturbing dynamics of message boards) If I said these things on a message board, I’d be flamed, ridiculed, or run out of town on a rail. I  won’t get that here. If someone leaves a comment that I don’t like I can delete it.  Mmmhhh, maybe “I” think myself a bit godly too?

But aaaanyway, as ELLEN says, for the record, and seriously, here’s my take on God. I believe in a Supreme being, but I don’t think it’s some big pie-in-the-sky-guy sitting on a golden throne, throwing down punishments or favors left and right. I believe that the bible, though spiritually inspired, was written by man to express his feelings, opinions, and emotions, and that if was written in good faith as a guide to others, but is therefore a good source of inspiration but not a history book.  I think God is energy, a Source we are all connected to, maybe even Nature herself. (that would make God a she, and I like that idea)  I guess that makes me a Pagan? God! I hate that word.