Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? (Fred White)

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
Fred White
Writer's Digest Books
Nonfiction, Writing
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: C. S. Lewis envisions a faun carrying packages through the snowy woods, and a classic series is born. Tolkien writes an irreverent sentence about a "hobbit," and begins his journey to Middle Earth. Ideas are all around us, but most pass unnoticed, and many of those we do see never seem to come to much. How does one recognize an idea's potential, and how can it be cultivated into successful articles, essays, or stories? Teacher and author Fred White offers tips and exercises for writers on idea generation and story planning.

REVIEW: I had a mixed reaction as I read this book. On one hand, White offers some good advice on brainstorming and crystallizing even the most nebulous sparks of inspiration. On the other, he seems almost obsessive about preparation work; not a single phase of the process can be accomplished without numerous worksheets and lists and research phases and expert interviews. I suspect that the professor in him shows here, as writing takes on the semblance of a class assignment, with clearly-defined progress points and worksheets for grading. While I understand the value of preparation, at some point the story itself must be written, and there seems little room for that here. There's also a fine line between preparation and organized procrastination; obsessively filling out lists and worksheets and exhaustively researching every little nuance before even writing the first draft can very easily cross that line. He mentions that some authors do fine with a more organic approach, but seems to fear spontaneous creativity himself, though he never quite comes out and says it. Then White goes on to suggest that authors should participate in National Novel Writing Month, possibly the epitome of spontaneous writing, which actively encourages exploring fresh ideas and going with the flow. The two approaches to writing do not seem compatible.
I learned some things here, and several of White's exercises are useful. His methods just seem stifling to me.

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