Note to aspiring writers: Slow down.
Such is the primary advice from the author of Writing as a Way of Healing (1999) and of assorted memoirs and biographies. DeSalvo (Creative Writing and Literature/Hunter Coll.; On Moving: A Writer's Meditation on New Houses, Old Haunts, and Finding Home Again, 2009, etc.) structures her book in tiny chapters, some lists of things to do (with bullet points) and myriad examples from the works of writers whose methods mirror those she’s recommending. Not surprisingly, Virginia Woolf appears continually (DeSalvo has published books about her), and there’s a passage about Tobias Wolff, as well. Among the others making numerous appearances are Michael Chabon, Zadie Smith, Ian McEwan, Jeffrey Eugenides, Paul Auster and Joan Didion. DeSalvo also tells us in many chapters that she is currently at work on a book about her father and World War II, and she recommends highly her own ruminative style, which features multiple revisions. Although she mentions Joyce Carol Oates in a different context (writing about difficult experiences), she does not consider Oates’ enviable productivity and her mastery of the art of fast writing. Similarly, she mentions Anthony Trollope’s use of a writing diary but neglects to mention that speedy Anthony wrote his nearly 50 novels (and numerous other works—longhand) in only 35 years. DeSalvo does have lots of useful advice, however, much of which reduces to this: If you really want to write, you will make the time and organize yourself in ways that will make possible both your writing life and your “real” one. She offers many tips—some borrowed from others—that will help novices do so. Perhaps the book’s most useful feature is its genial optimism—the you-can-do-this tone that beginning (and insecure) writers will find encouraging.
Elementary in many ways but infused with the faith of a true believer.