Janet and Isaac Asimov on HOW TO ENJOY WRITING

I stumbled across a hardback edition of Janet and Isaac Asimov’s HOW TO ENJOY WRITING: A BOOK OF AID AND COMFORT (published 1987) at a used bookstore.  The book is out-of-print, so you’ll have to buy a used copy or go to a library if you wish to read it.

This book is not written for beginners.  It does not discuss how to write science fiction or how to get published.  Readers will get more out of it if they’ve been writing for a few years and have a basic understanding of the publishing industry.  Janet Asimov chooses to focus on the psychological aspects of writing (which makes sense since she was trained in psychiatry).   The writing style of the book reminds me of long rambling talks with a favorite academic adviser.  If you don’t enjoy chatty talks, you’ll probably get restless reading this book.

Despite having read many books on writing, I found fresh insights in Chapter 3:  Coping, Ch. 5 : What Writers Go Through, Ch. 8: Words vs. Pictures, and Ch. 16: Integrity.  Here’s some advice Isaac Asimov gave a young writer from Ch. 3:

And most of all, to be a writer means to write whether there is any reward or not.   That is why a writer finds it so difficult to overcome the feeling of annoyance at any interference with his writing whether from a friend, from an editor, or even a person whom he loves above all else….

Write for the pleasure of writing only, and never think of whether of what you write is “good” or “bad.”  Do you wonder whether the echo of your footsteps is good or bad, whether the blink of your eye is good or bad?  Writing is a bodily function for a writer and it is what it is.

It may be wise to give up the illusion of being a famous writer, a renowned writer–but it is never an illusion to think of being just a writer….

ISAAC  (at the top of his voice):  Please don’t help me!  Happiness is doing it lousy yourself.

For over a century, the publishing industry has debated if books will disappear due to each new development in the entertainment industry (vaudeville, radio, movies, VCRs, video games, internet, etc.).  In Ch. 8 Words vs. Pictures, Isaac Asimov talks about this debate in depth.  Even though the chapter is over twenty years old, he brings valuable insights to share about writing as a form of communication in human history: 1) writing has been around for thousands of years and still provides a way to get certain information across that no other form can, and 2) the percentage of humans who are intense readers has been, and probably always will be, small–but those readers are loyal.  I’d rather not summarize his arguments here; better to go read the chapter to get his thoughts straight from him.

Their book also has cartoons about writing done by Sidney Harris.  My favorite is the one about Hemingway’s dog meeting Faulkner’s dog.  🙂

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