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by Mary Pipher

Pub Date: April 20th, 2006
ISBN: 1-59448-920-3
Publisher: Riverhead

A cornucopia of platitudes about Writing and Life from a bestselling psychologist.

Pipher (Letters to a Young Therapist, 2003, etc.) is an earnest and amiable companion in this text, which belongs on the self-help shelf. It’s chockablock with the conventions of the genre, including shaded-and-boxed inspirational quotations throughout (the writers range from Mother Teresa to Mark Twain), just-plain-folks diction (“There is a place for you at the table”) and a sort of personal-trainer perkiness that makes learning how to write seem somehow like losing weight or firming up your abdominals. The author’s language veers at times into the precious and predictable (“Voice is like a snowflake—complicated, beautiful, and individual”), and the advice rarely advances beyond the patent (carry a little notebook with you, back up your computer files, revise a lot). Nearly every page features allusions to other writers (she advocates and practices this annoying technique) and clichés pervade all. Just about every bromide about writing ever concocted finds an honored place in Pipher’s medicine chest. She urges writing from the heart, offers advice on how to organize and prepare to write (use file cabinets!), comments on such topics as employing metaphors (be sure they’re fresh!) and conducting interviews (let your subject talk!), explains how to write more effective letters of persuasion (don’t show off!), how to make better speeches (think about your audience!) and compose more powerful personal essays (share your epiphanies!). The author concludes with some thoughts on blogging and on composing poetry and music. “Songs,” she notes, “are often inspired by intense feelings.” And poetry? Well, think of a fresh metaphor to describe it. How about snowflakes! “Poetry has the gossamer quality of a snowflake and the power of a sword.”

An unremarkable stroll along the road frequently traveled.