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Only as Good as Your Word: Writing Lessons from My Favorite Literary Gurus

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  131 ratings  ·  33 reviews
In this funny, moving, and revealing book, Susan Shapiro recounts her obsessive quest for success as a professional writer and the beloved mentors who saved her life--and career--along the way.

Growing up in the Midwest, Susan Shapiro knew at a young age that all she wanted in life was to become a writer. And so, as soon as she graduated from college, she headed straight
Paperback, 410 pages
Published August 31st 2007 by Seal Press (first published 2007)
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Aug 18, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Not a quick read (at least not for me)

What I learned from this book:
(1) Shapiro is way into confessional poetry
(2) Shapiro is Jewish.
(3) Shapiro is proud of being Jewish.
(4) Many of Shapiro's contacts are also Jewish.
(5) Shapiro selflessly helped many, many, many people.
(6) Many of those people were not grateful and did not reciprocate.
(7) If you want help from someone you have to first pretend to admire their work.

I learned these things because she repeated them often. Very often. Almost
Mar 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a well-organized thematic memoir, but Shapiro never loses the chatty, spontaneous tone of the open-hearted confidante. Her portraits of "writing mentors" -- mostly, they're older friends who are writers -- are adoring, but she doesn't spare them a few leveling observations as she begins to outgrow her pure hero worship. I've seen more "important" writers do this with less grace than Shapiro, who most of all won me over with her sense of humor and genuine affection for almost every human ...more
Sonya Feher
Dec 27, 2009 rated it liked it
I expected Only As Good As Your Word: Writing Lessons from My Favorite Literary Gurus to be a collection of essays, each by one of Sue Shapiro's mentors with their quintessential writing lessons. Instead, the whole book is written by Shapiro as a memoir of her mentors, how she formed and maintained the relationships, what lessons she learned from each, and how her writing or career was shaped by having them. Though the last two chapters of the book are "How to Have a Protege" and "How to Get ...more
May 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is both fun and informative. It's fun to observe Shapiro's life and experiences in the writing business. The people she has encountered are interesting and, usually entertaining. Clearly Zucker, Fast, Stark, Gruber and the non-relative Shapiro had the most impact. The Frazier and Anderson chapters didn't really convey as much of a connection for her, nor much influence--they seemed like extras thrown in to make the book have more pages and feel more solid when you pull it off the shelf. The ...more
Stacy Jensen
May 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
In my quest to be a better writer, I continue to check out books on the subject yet refuse to put in the actual work of writing every day like I'm supposed to. Maybe I think my talent will increase by osmosis. Well hope springs eternal, right? Shapiro, writes about the various and different mentors she had in her life that helped her along in her journey of becomeing a great writer. Each is so interesting and different and supported her in various ways. I am concerned about the amount of ...more
Kathleen L. L.
Jul 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Ms. Shapiro's easy and engaging voice was a delight, and I felt I gleaned from her mentors and gurus as if I had been there with her. This was great on a memoir level and also as a loose how-to in the writing craft. Plus I refreshed on a bunch of adorable yiddish slang, which is always a bonus!

Her navigation through New York's literary food chain was both impressive and a tribute to her work ethic and perfectionism. The surprise in the bunch was her volunteer work with a soup kitchen writing
Sep 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
As an aspiring writer who definitely lacks the confidence in his skill, I read Shaipro's book primarily on a whim. I wanted to hearwhat a woman had to say about the journey. Between her book and Les, Edgerton's bluntness in the bootcamp I participated in (closest thing to castration that a man can experience and still walk away with his balls hanging where their meant to be), I have come to the answer: HELL, YES! Very good read here and it has helped me understand more of what my personal ...more
Apr 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writers, writing group members, mentors, proteges
I half-expected, half-feared that this would be a soft-focus, rosy-hued hagiography of Shapiro's beloved past teachers. Instead, it was honest, critical, inspiring and insightful. I did wonder if Shapiro went easy on herself. She spent a great deal of time explaining her own motivations. Since this was a memoir, there was far less insight into the mentors whose laundry gets aired in here. I liked this, but I suspect I might not like it if I were one of the people profiled.
Mar 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everone who loves to write .. or wants to write ...
Recommended to Catharine by: Susan Shapiro
keep on keeping on .. learn from everyone .. listen to those you care about .. believe in yourself ....

thanks susan .. really, thanks ....
Mindy Ohringer
Sep 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Susan Shapiro provides valuable insight for writers by sharing how her mentors guided, inspired, and supported her literary journey. Each chapter offers nuggets that will enable/empower writers at all stages of their creative journey to improve their work. She's a model of what Erik Erikson described as "generativity", advocating for her readers/students to succeed. Shapiro channels Emerson, relentlessly encouraging writers to know themselves better, to find the burning (and often uncomfortable) ...more
Laura Zam
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Everyone needs a mentor. And maybe even seven, like Susan Shapiro in this delightful, important book. I was mesmerized by the author's writing style--I read it in a weekend! But it's the content that really grabbed me. Psychologically astute and funny throughout, Only as Good as Your Word deeply inspired me to pursue my dreams and find people who believe in them. Who believe in me. If you have your own aspirations (and who doesn't?), I urge you to read this book.
May 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Entertaining, fun, inspiring.
Tamara Knez
Jun 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An open and riveting account of the authors writing life and her journey to find her voice and career path. A must read for anyone who wants to pursue this profession but also for those who aren't necessarily intent on making a career but enjoy good writing. It describes the hard work, constant editing and incessant revisions required. The author details vacations spent reading books on the beach for her reviewing gigs and constantly working weekends. She doesn't mystify it but shows all the ...more
Victoria Evangelina Allen
Dec 10, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: in-english


Well, I have not finished reading this book, though I dragged myself through 2/3 of it. It does NOT deliver any lessons! Yes, there are some smart and common phrases, like:

-the first time you come up with a piece your family hates means you found your writing voice;
-exploit your obsessions;
-a 'humiliation essay' has the most chances of being published;
-lead the least secretive life you can in order to be happy;
-do not write for fortune and fame but write because there is nothing
Sara-Kate Astrove
Aug 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As a young writer, I found this book helpful and intriguing on multiple levels. Mentors are important in any profession, but given the idiosyncratic, unpredictable nature of creative paths, these relationships can make all the difference. Susan Shapiro is a superhero mentor to her students, and Only as Good as Your Word is her origin story. Her unique devotion to helping those starting out is a testament to the profound impact her own mentors had when she was in the fledgling position. She ...more
C. Hsiung
May 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The best thing about Susan Shapiros memoir is that shes brutally honest. She hooked me at the Introduction and then she kept reeling me in.

Shapiro recounts her relationships with seven mentors who helped her in her quest to a becoming a professional writer. I believe she gave as much, or more than she received from them. She adored and celebrated them.

Jack Zucker, Shapiros high school English teacher, stoked her love for poetry. Then Howard Fast, her best-selling author cousin challenged her to
Gigi Blanchard
Mar 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Since the author is a Guru herself her experiences and lessons learned by her predecessors make this book a pot of gold for aspiring writers. Susan went from poet to book critic to memoirist to esteemed professor whose classes continue to having waiting lists every semester. Susan writes just like she speaks which makes this compilation conversational and easy to follow. Writers strive to be candid and honest and Susan does not hold back - which is likely why she was such a successful book ...more
Pat Hill
Sep 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Reading OAGAYW is like sitting in a café across from your best friend and listening to her dish about her day at the office. I loved it. It isnt just the insiders gossip on the successful players in the publishing industry or the Midwesterns take on the elitism of the East coast. Its her fluid style of sharing the angst and enthusiasm of a profession where nothing is guaranteed. Rarely does a book on writing have so many laugh-out-loud moments. But Shapiro also shows her tender side in the ...more
Nov 08, 2008 rated it liked it
This is a book I had no intention of reading. It was meant to give me something to read at the library while my kids chose their own books. A couple of days later the book is finished. To complete a book i never intended on reading is, i suppose, a testament to Shapiro as a writer. But i had to learn a thing or two before deciding to follow the book to its conclusions. First, I realzed by the second chapter that there was no escaping Shapiro's solipsism. I suppose a memoir on writing and mentors ...more
Sep 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Sometimes I write down a book as one I want to read, and then by the time I get around to reading it, I've totally forgotten what it's supposed to be about. That was the case with this book, which I thought was essays about writing from different authors. Instead, it is one author writing about the different people in her life who mentored her. All in all, it was interesting, and a glimpse into a world that I'll never be part of. Shapiro is an admitted therapy junkie, though, which got a little ...more
Kimberly Kim
Mar 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Susan Shapiro's book, Only As Good As Your Word: Writing Lessons From My Literary Gurus, is a marvelously funny, candid, and insightful look into the writing life. Susan Shapiro is a writer's heroine as she triumphs and prevails over many of the trials and pitfalls that writers can go through, but not without the help, support, friendship and love of her brilliant mentors, as she reveals. There is also a section in the book that is devoted to finding your own protege, too! Therefore, this book ...more
Nov 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
My only complaint about "Only as Good as Your Word" is that I can't read as lightning-quick as Sue Shapiro thinks. Her narrative voice is so delightfully, neurotically fast-paced that I almost can't keep up. At times she's so far ahead of me that I can't see where she's going, but in this case, the destination is always a fabulous book party full of wise, warm writer-sages with brilliant advice on life and writing.

In this humble tribute to the writers, scholars, thinkers, editors and more who
Oct 13, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: aspiring writers
An interesting book about how mentors helped the author to get published, and (in general) pursue a writing career. Some interesting information and a lot of people I have never heard about. However, I didn't really feel like I identified with the author. I supose we are probably very different people. The other disappointing thing was that this memoir really showed that in order to 'get published' it is really all about who you know and where you live (is it just me or does it seem like you ...more
Amber Schroer
May 18, 2015 rated it did not like it
This took way too long to finish because I kept putting it off to read lighter reads; I'm not saying it was a difficult book, but since it was a book on writing, I was prepared to absorb the so-called lessons. Those "lessons" were more Shapiro's memoir on her writing journey rather than applicable lessons on the craft. Overall, the book was not entertaining or enlightening, and the only true lesson on writing that she seemed to enforce was that it's not "what you know, but who you know" when it ...more
Bruna Costa
Oct 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Things I can remember: Use every bit of time you have to read. Get a mentor. Work hard. It's competitive as the Dickens.

Honestly the intro got me hooked in. "I'm not aware of too many things but I know what I know if you know what I mean." - Edie Brickell and the New Bohemiens.

I can't remember what else she said. I honestly read this a long time ago. But, she taught me enough.
Jan 13, 2008 rated it it was ok
I love Shapiro's gutsiness, esp when she talks about her family and young efforts to make it as a writer. The middle of the book plods along.... I don't know if I can finish all the essays, but I still want to read "Five Men Who Broke My Heart."
Jul 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shapiro drew me in with her intimate and witty memoir. Her instructions on the the writing life focus on how to get your work in the right hands, how to be resilient, and the importance of good manners. I've quoted her advice already. The book is practical and absorbing. Thank you.
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very interesting memoir on writing, some advice from accomplished writers and the author's perspective on breaking into the industry.
Diane Shipley
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Another excellent re-read.
Sep 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
I thought this was going to be more advice-driven, not boring memoir with way too much boring dialogue.
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