I have officially finished reading my second book for the year (only 28 more to go) and have to say that it has been my favorite so far. (It had a 50/50 shot.) Despite my days filled with teaching and writing and various activities, Monica Wood’s The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing caused me to pause what I was doing and pay direct attention to what she had to say. Though it isn’t too long (the pages aren’t numbered) and some pages have no words at all, it is by far one of the best books on writing that I have read.
The book is a mixture of encouraging and honest advice, clever prompts, quotes, tips and personal experiences from the author. And so I thought I would break down my review into those categories:
In her intro, Wood explains that she used to be a school counselor–a job which she loved and quit in order to pursue the writing life. Like the rest of usm she has struggled and succeeded, and offers the lessons she’s learned from that. For example, she offers 7 Rules of Etiquette for a Reading, such as:
- Arrive on time, even if you’re famous
- If you’re reading poems, don’t explain them first. If you must add an intro, don’t make it longer than the poem.
- Slow down. Most people read too fast.
She also talks a lot about the writer lifestyle and things she has learned that come with the territory—such as the dreaded rejection. Wood offers a lot of advice on rejection.
Wood’s prompts vary from fun and silly to serious and thought provoking. She uses some of her own words, words from others, single words, pictures and a plethora of other tricks to get that pen writing or keyboard typing. Open the page, pick a prompt, and start writing. You might end up with a prompt such as:
[insert picture of two hippos in front of what appears to be a brick building]
These hippos are called Dodger and Betsy. Your challenge is to figure out how they got into the parking lot of a Catholic school.
Who were your parents at your age?
Surrounding myself with writers has made me realize that we don’t only love words—we love words about words, words about writing, thoughts about words and writing, talking about words and writing. While some of the quotes she uses are for prompts, a lot of them work for general inspiration (about words and writing) as well. For example, Wood includes the following quotes as part of her conglomeration:
“I think writer’s block is simply the dread that you are going to write something terrible.”
–Roy Blount, Jr.
“Let us write and let us dance—two amusements that will never do harm to the world.”
Tips and personal experiences
Wood shares one activity she enjoys where she goes to a café with someone, but does not listen to them. Instead, she listens to what’s going on around them. Or she asks, “what is the subject you’re avoiding? Write it down.”
Another example is when she explains:
“Colors can be delivered as similes that suggest something about the character’s inner life. Your reader will receive a character in a red shirt a little differently if that shirt is described as the color of spilled wine or fresh liver or SpeghettiOs.”
The Pocket Muse calls directly to my odd character traits and intense literary desires that often come with the gift and burden of being a writer. The only point on which I disagree with her is that I should get a cat. However, the rest of the book is gold. And she so eloquently ends it with “don’t forget to be grateful that you love words.”
…As if I ever could.
Overall grade: A++
I found out that there is a sequal to this book. I plan to pick it up and review it for your reading pleasure in the near future. 🙂