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The Writer's Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  218 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
The Writer's Notebook combines the best craft seminars from the Summer Writers Workshop's history with craft essays by some of Tin House's favorite authors and features a list of contributors that reads like a veritable who’s who of contemporary poets and prose writers. Jim Shepard, Aimee Bender, Steve Almond, D. A. Powell, Chris Offutt, and others distill elements of wri
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 12th 2009 by Tin House Books (first published May 1st 2009)
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Robin Kirk
Mar 26, 2013 Robin Kirk rated it it was amazing
Shelves: craft
There are some very good pieces in this book -- Steve Almond's essay on writing sex scenes is excellent (it's not about the sex, but character, of course). The brief piece on the revisions behind The Great Gatsby was fascinating -- and comforting. Even Fitzgerald didn't get it the first time. He took the editorial comments made by Maxwell Perkins very seriously and generously, looking for the meaning in them rather than resisting them.

Some nuggets:

In "Making a Scene," Anna Keesey quotes Marilyn
Feb 14, 2011 Zach rated it really liked it
This is a good collection of essays by a collection of top notch writers. They are mostly lacking in the area of "hard craft," meaning that they are composed more of metaphysical musings instead of practical writing advice. There is of course some of that, as essays on writing unavoidably delve into advice-giving at some point. But the impression given is definitely one of a casual conversation, not a lecture. It's like sitting at a round table with the authors while they share their wisdom. The ...more
May 14, 2009 Spencer rated it really liked it
This is not your Mother’s writing manual. Hell, Tin House’s new book of craft essays, by a wonderful host of heavy-hitting writers, is not a manual at all, and it is so much the better for it. The Writer’s Notebook takes its name seriously when presenting seventeen sexy essays that avoid giving step-by-step instructions, but confidently leads the reader on a pleasant hike up the mountain of writing craft. Leave your own notebook in the other room, but keep your pen handy, you may need to ...more
May 25, 2011 Wendy rated it really liked it
This is a great little collection of essays by some notable contributors. I have to admit that my favorite chapter here was Steve Almond's hilarious little gem about the awkwardness--and near impossibility--of writing about sex ("Hard up for a Hard-On", which, coincidentally, includes both lovely and nauseating examples. Consider yourself warned). Other notable chapters that I found particularly helpful include "Performing Surgery without Anesthetic" by Chris Offutt on revisions, "Making a ...more
Dec 09, 2010 Madeline rated it really liked it
Shelves: assigned-reading
I rarely find craft essays fun to read, but these are actually very enjoyable. Lots of writers, most of which I've actually heard of, all contributing essays on very specific topics in writing. Sample titles include "When to Keep It Simple" by Rick Bass, "Revisioning The Great Gatsby" by Susan Bell, "Fairy Tale is Form, Form is Fairy Tale" by Kate Bernheimer, "Le Mot Incorrect" by Jim Crusoe, "Lost in the Woods" by Antonya Nelson, and my personal favorite, "Hard Up for a Hard-on" by Steve Almond ...more
Dec 09, 2012 Sam rated it really liked it
Each essay I've finished has sent me either to my journal or to the keyboard.
Natalie (weneedhunny)
This collection of essays focus on writing but have rather different approaches - some specifically talk about poetry, about Shakespeare, about fairytales and about specific books like The Great Gatsby. Others have more general ideas, theories and advice that could be applied to a wide variety of people and stories I think. I found some of the essays too heavy in quotes and examples - which really took away from my personal connection to what exactly was being said, instead I kept being annoyed ...more
Jul 19, 2013 Bucket rated it liked it
What to make of this collection? As a whole it was all over the place--one essay would read like it belonged in an academic journal, another like it was meant to be copied and distributed to an intro to creative writing class at the community college. The essays themselves were decent if the author could decide on the focus, and I will say I got at least *some*thing out of each of them once I figured out where they were going.

Some of them, of course, never went anywhere, instead reading like th
Jan 27, 2012 Matt rated it really liked it
I'm being a little generous with my rating - I'd have preferred a 3.7 or 3.8, but chose to round-up instead - mostly because, for all that they profess to instruct and suggest, some of these essays did little more than explain a genre, form, or trend without bothering to handle either the technical aspects or the possible usefulness of these things.

That being said, the essays that WERE instructive, I will be looking back to for decades to come. These writers have helped me to actively rethink m
Dec 07, 2014 Steven rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
These are not how-to craft essays although you can glean some how-to from them. They are mostly structured as, or modified from, talks given at Tin House Writers Workshop seminars. So they have that inspiring and motivating quality to them that highly competent, literate, and passionate people bring when they talk about something they love. This book is in kinship with the Iowa Writer's Workshop book The Eleventh Draft. My favorite line in the book is Chris Offutt's on revision: "Revising requir ...more
Nov 29, 2009 Steve rated it really liked it
It's always interesting when people from the "creative writing can't be taught school" write books that help you to do just that. They're either redefining what it means to be "taught," or they're just hypocrites, and they need the money. Having said that, I think this is a very good book on writing. Written by different authors, they're more like essays than a how-to book. They talk about things like plot and structure and challenge you to look at them from new angles. It should also be noted ...more
Jan 13, 2013 Melissa rated it really liked it
Shelves: skimming-skimmed
For teaching. A wide variety of good ideas here.

I really like D.A. Powell's essay and it helped me explain something to students that is often hard to explain: the idea that not knowing what you're doing and/or encouraging the subconscious is good. Anna Keesey's essay on making scenes is also very useful.
Mark Flanagan
Seventeen essays on the craft of writing from Tin House writers' workshop leaders Aimee Bender, Dorothy Allison, and Jim Shepherd. It's a good bunch of writers and a good bunch of essays on the nuts and bolts of writing... plus a bonus cd. [ full review ]
Jul 10, 2009 heather rated it it was amazing
First: Massive, huge apologies to Johnny Baks for what I'm about to write. You know I still got your back.

You should get this book solely because it has Steve Almond's essay "Hard up for A Hard on", on writing sex scenes. It's adapted from the talk he gave in 2007 at Tin House, and it's hilarious.
Sheryl Nantus
Jan 31, 2011 Sheryl Nantus rated it it was amazing
I'll admit it - I'm a writing craft book junkie. If I see it on the shelf and it survives a prelim glance, I'll buy it and read it.

This is a great book. If you're looking for some help in getting focused or improving your writing, grab a copy and enjoy.

Especially the chapter on sex scenes.

Jul 23, 2010 Cecile rated it liked it
Not quite as strong as John Gardner's "How to become a novelist" but still up to par with the usual mastery that demonstrate the people at "Tin House" (my personal favorite as far as literary mags go).It contains interesting views about the craft.
Jun 06, 2016 Ryan rated it liked it
I won this book through Goodreads Giveaways. The collection of essays does a nice job of covering a wide range of issues relevant to aspiring writers. The quality of the advice is middling. I would recommend checking it out if you are interested in a textbook/creative essay hybrid.
Oct 27, 2010 Sara rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
There is an essay for every writer in this "notebook." The one by Dorothy Allison was by far my favorite though. It is definitely one that I will use again for teaching. I know that I will look to it again and again for advice on my own work. I heartily agreed with much of what I read.
Oct 28, 2009 Robyn rated it really liked it
The chapter "Place" by Dorothy Allison was by far my favorite. "Le Mot Incorrect" by Jim Krusoe took second place.

One of my friends reviewed it in his online magazine Propeller.
Jan 17, 2013 Ethan rated it liked it
More of a rumination on writing than an actual "how to" book. Although it was a fairly entertaining read, I didn't learn much, and most of the writerly insights were insubstantial.
devin strauch
Aug 02, 2014 devin strauch rated it really liked it
some useful essays in here. some that made no sense to me. And some that just seemed like common sense when writing. over all worth the read, though.
Oct 30, 2013 Søren rated it did not like it
Not very actionable advice. Some chapters are useless literary mental masturbation. Would not recommend. The only good chapter is the one on revising.
Ryan Wilson
Jun 24, 2013 Ryan Wilson rated it really liked it
Some great, some good, all worthwhile to consider.
Anna Keesey and Aimee Bender clear it up--bigtime (thanks!).
Almond is Almond. Krusoe interesting discussion on words.
Jul 17, 2015 Caroline rated it liked it
Highlights: Dorothy Allison on place, Matthea Harvey on imaginary worlds, Anna Keesey on scene and summary, and Chris Offutt on revising.
Oct 07, 2009 Wendy rated it it was amazing
Pete Rock's essay makes me want to find his books and read them. I already love Antonya Nelson but after reading "Lost in the Woods," I understand why.
Apr 06, 2015 Rosalyn rated it it was amazing
Valuable read for all writers. It made me laugh so hard at times but increased my determination and confidence overall
Feb 15, 2015 Erin rated it really liked it
Shelves: craft
A lovely set of essays where the great gatsby shows up twice as one of the most perfect books. I liked Dorothy Allison's essay the most, but Chris Offut's essay on revision was lovely.
Jim Taone
Dec 30, 2012 Jim Taone rated it it was amazing
An excellent collection of essays that provide great guidance and at many times provide examples of the do's and dont's through writing in print.
Tracy Hart
Jun 04, 2010 Tracy Hart rated it really liked it
Totally in love with Dorothy Allison's essay on Place, and with the illustrated essay "Material" by Lucy Corbin.
Rachel León
Jul 06, 2015 Rachel León rated it really liked it
A nice collection of essays on the writing craft by some very talented writers.
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“Friend, let me tell you this: telling in stories often attempts to simplify, to clarify, but when it's really working, telling complicates and adds dimension to the experience of the story. It interprets situations and characters, and it invites us to do the same. It involves us. (Peter Rock)” 1 likes
“*The story,* I like to say and remember, *is always smarter than you* - there will be patterns of theme, image,e and idea that are much savvier and more complex than you could have come up with on your own. Find them with your marking pens as they emerge in your drafts. Become a student of your work in progress. Look for what your material is telling you about your material. Every aspect of a story has its own story. (Lucy Corin)” 1 likes
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