Seventeen women writers explain how it's done. This genre, in its male manifestations anyhow, tends to be full of fussiness and self-importance, and there's some of that here. Thus, Susan Griffin pontificates absurdly, ""I find myself staying away, on the whole, unless they have been recommended to me as an exception, from work by white men. . ."" But apart from a few such pretentious notes, the famous (Didion, Jong, Rukeyser) and not-so-famous (Bambara, Burroway, Alice Walker) authors in this collection are refreshingly free of professional and ideological cant. They're also quite a varied lot. Black writers like Toni Cade Bambara or Margaret Walker connect their work with a clearly defined political commitment, while some others, like Anne Tyler or Joan Didion, speak only of the concrete environment where they live and create. (But is Didion aware how much her cool materialism--""I knew that I was no legitimate resident in any world of ideas""--constitutes a political choice?) Some take an explicitly feminist tack: Mary Gordon describes a crucial meeting with an overbearing male writer, and decides she would rather have a watercolor by Mary Cassatt than a Velazquez oil. Some do not: Nancy Milford recounts a very different meeting with a gentle, heartbroken widower. Some preach: Erica Jong gives an effective little sermon on avoiding destructive rage. Some do not: Michele Murray simply records in a diary her struggle to make something of herself before her early death from cancer. Most readers are bound to be irritated by one remark or another from these outspoken writers (e.g., by the brickbats Alice Walker tosses at Ellen Moers and Patricia Meyer Spacks), but that's an indication of how freewheeling and unprogrammatic the book is. A fresh and rather tasty antipasto.