I’ve read many books on writing over the years (starting with “Journal of a Novel” by John Steinbeck, which I read when I was 10 years old). “The Writing Life” by Jeff Strand is by far the most unusual and the most helpful. It’s unusual because it’s not really structured like a linear book; it’s more of a patchwork of anecdotes and advice. The tone is very conversational and full of Jeff Strand’s trademark wit. It felt like talking with Jeff over a barbecue dinner but without having to look at the barbecue sauce on his face. Jeff shares stories from his career in writing, some of them success stories, some of them not. He is brutally honest about mistakes he has made. Some of the stories, like his tale of woe from his time as president of a writer’s organization, the story of one of his films being adapted (badly) into a film, and multiple stories of author readings where no one showed up, are hilarious and will make you snort coffee through your nose (well, they had that effect on me, but you might not be drinking coffee while reading).
And take note that the subtitle is accurate: there’s a LOT of cursing here. I think this is Jeff Strand’s filthiest book since his sex-farce thriller “Bang Up.” “The Writing Life” has 68 F-bombs and 62 S-bombs, for those keeping score. The awesome book cover by Lynne Hansen conveys the blend of humor, professional advice, and cursing that make up “The Writing Life.”
There are very helpful (and humorous) chapters on working with critique groups, dealing with bad reviews, collaborating with other authors, being on panels at conventions and conferences, balancing writing and day jobs, and dealing with imposter syndrome.
“The Writing Life” covers a topic I’ve never seen in a writing book before: there’s a chapter on quitting (Chapter 20: “Quitting”). This chapter was hugely liberating to me. It made me realize that for all intents and purposes, I quit writing when the Covid-19 crisis started in early 2020. I quit working on my novel-in-progress, other than making some plot notes here and there. And this chapter helped me realize: that’s OK. Like many people during this crisis, I had to drastically re-invent my whole job (I’m a self-employed counselor who works with clients in the criminal justice system) and go into financial survival mode for most of 2020. And I’m proud of how I weathered the storm and held on to my job and continued to help people in need of my services.
Not that I needed Jeff Strand’s permission to quit writing, or anyone else’s but my own – but realizing I had already quit writing, and realizing that was OK, felt like a huge burden of guilt was lifted off my shoulders. And paradoxically, when that guilt, that sense that I had failed as a writer, was gone, it was replaced by a sense of freedom and a new desire to write again.
“The Writing Life: Reflections, Recollections, and a Lot of Cursing” by Jeff Strand has jump-started my own writing again, and for that I am truly grateful.
Photo: my cat Leonidas asks Jeff to cool it with all the cursing.