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About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, & Five Interviews

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  329 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Award-winning novelist Samuel R. Delany has written a book for creative writers to place alongside E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel and Lajos Egri's Art of Dramatic Writing. Taking up specifics (When do flashbacks work, and when should you avoid them? How do you make characters both vivid and sympathetic?) and generalities (How are novels structured? How do writers ...more
Paperback, 420 pages
Published January 4th 2006 by Wesleyan University Press
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Ben Loory
Jul 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a collection of pieces written at various times and for various purposes and there is some overlap between them, which is a little annoying, but in general this book is great-- just packed full of interesting ideas and stories. I especially liked the part about The Red Badge of Courage and how it got into the canon. Amazing story! Anyway, yeah, this is one of those rare books that makes you want to dedicate your life to being smarter than you are. Which we all could do with a lot more ...more
Ben Babcock
Jan 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I’m teaching part of an AS Level English Literature class this year, including the creative writing component. As I finally got around to reading this, I couldn’t stop thinking, “Why didn’t I read this at the beginning of the school year? I could teach practically the whole class using this.” As it is, I ended up photocopying three of the essays for my students to mull over. About Writing, despite its embrace of the traditionally generic title, stands above many other “how to write” books. ...more
Aug 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Aspiring Writers
First off, I really like Samuel R. Delany's sf novels. They are so wonderfully well written, so disparate in their approach to languange, that I just collect him and read him off and on, knowing that his books will all entertain and get me excited.

So I found out about this book and had to buy it. I had to read what one of my favorite writers said about writing. It would be the same thing if Harlan Ellison wrote a book on writing. Or Hubert Selby Jr. These would be things to acquire and learn
Matt Ward
Jun 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is basically the one writing book you need on your shelf. You can learn all those rules about style and grammar on the internet. This book delves deep into all the other stuff you didn't even realize was interesting or important until you hear Delany's opinion on it.

I got through the intro and thought, "Wow. How can the rest of this be this good?" Then thought the same thing at the end of the essays. Then thought the same thing at the end of the letters. Each section somehow kept getting
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Delany refers to his book here as a guide for more advanced writers. The book is a solid mix of general advice, detailed unpacking of techniques, interviews, and a few old school grammar overviews. A couple years ago I was not prepared to read this. It struck me as too dense and full of lists of writers who I had never heard of nor cared to spend the time reading. But time has passed and I found myself in need of a firm hand.

Delany's About Writing goes in on how to avoid thin, cluttered, and
Sep 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Aggressively erudite and bracing, but also amusing, interesting, thoughtful, true and useful. About Writing is probably of most use if you share some of Delany's interests and opinions. That is: not afraid genre fiction or literary fiction or experimental fiction. Interested in rigor on both the sentence level and structural level. Not allergic to both highly personal but also highly theoretical essaying.

If any of this turns you off, stick with King's On Writing.
Alica McKenna-Johnson
This was not the book for me.

As a self pubbed young adult and romance author I found this book condescending and the techniques not applicable for my work.
Sean Sullivan
Sep 21, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I am of the opinion that Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren is one of the most important novels of the last forty years. It is as challenging as Gravity’s Rainbow, but much more rewarding and politically complicated. And a friend said once, it makes you feel kind of funny when you read it.

I love most of Delany’s work, the essays on french theory, the memoirs on growing up black, queer and dyslexic in New York City, the science fiction, most of the gay porn (though not even I can stomach Hogg). When I saw
Apr 27, 2009 rated it liked it
I was really excited to stumble on this collection of essays and letters by one of my favorite writers on the craft of writing, but it doesn't quite live up to my hopes.

I haven't read the whole book yet, but the parts I have read are like meeting a fascinating person at a party who gets distracted and never finishes all the great ideas and stories they start. Delany has an incredibly agile mind though, and there is a lot to get out of these essays. A few tidbits:

The German idea of Begeisterung,
Aaron Singleton
Apr 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic
In this book, Mr. Delany offers many in-depth essays about the art and craft of writing fiction. Unlike many books that cover the same subject, this book goes into very fine detail of every aspect of writing. For those of you who have read Delany's work before, you already know of the man's intelligence. For newbies, be prepared: He does not let you play catch up; this is for serious writers or those who want to read long and complex analyses of the craft. For those looking for simple and ...more
Jason Erik Lundberg
Not just a book on writing instruction or a memoir of the writing life (although both of that is in here), but also a thorough examination of Delany's literary theory and criticism. It is a complete engagement with literature, and once again reveals a thoughtful, intelligent, and astute academic observer of the entire literary (and paraliterary) experience. (Full review here.)
May 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Some of the best essays on writing and aesthetics to be found anywhere.
Omar Rodriguez-Rodriguez
I enjoyed some of the advice of the first part of the book, but the rest was not as interesting. Delany’s writing style was full of long lists of names, never ending paragraphs (repeatedly interrupted by parentheses), more names, (more parentheses), etc.

Worst of all, I was really put off by the author's voice. Delany's take on writing seemed very elitist. His constant focus on "talent", and "genius" did not make great advice on craft.
Todd Hogan
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Dense but valuable ruminations on the art, craft, and business of writing. I found the book, a compilation of interviews, articles, and speeches Mr. Delany had delivered, to be packed with gems. Not everything was new, but it's comforting to see one's own ill-formed ideas validated by someone with the ability to form coherent rules. Not an easy read, but a rewarding one.
Aug 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Although some of this (especially the appendix at the end) is about how to write well, most of it is literary criticism, musings on the literary canon, the state of literature today and specifically SF. As a popular author in several genres, critic, and English professor, Delany is incredibly knowledgeable so most of the essays and interviews are enlightening if that's your cup of tea.
Eric S.
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If I could recommend one book to those wishing to write well, it would be this book. I've used this book constantly when writing professionally for games, to publish my own fiction, and when teaching writing fiction.
Carrie Lahain
Sep 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
I will admit that I am not a regular reader of science fiction, and I have not read anything else by Samuel R. Delany. I enjoyed an excerpt of ABOUT WRITING in the online magazine BRAINPICKINGS and decided to check it out. It turned out to be a strange mix of writing advice, literary criticism, and academic argument.

The essays and the letters are interesting and enjoyable. Though long-winded and (at times) rather elitist in tone, they offer considerable insight into the difference between
Jan 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Although I think he's largely underrated, Delany is a masterful writer.

The 7 essays are absolute game-changers in terms of direct writerly advice; the letters are closer to life advice for any would be writer than mere letters of any kind. The interviews, however, I could not bear to read. In fact, they are the sole reason why I am not giving the book 5 stars; Delany, like most elderly people, has a tendency to derail from the initial question with all manner of stories that, more often than
May 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Got this as a present. This is actually the best book on writing I've read in years, and as a fan of his stuff, it's just an awesome pleasure to hang out with his personality so much, warts and all. Delany is all at once sharp as hell, curmudgeonly as all get-out and unwilling to ignore foolishness, but also full of humanity. I think my favorite bits are his interviews and his correspondence. For the former, all but one have him going, "Actually, I disagree with all the assumptions of your ...more
B. Mason
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Samuel R. Delany has crafted an intelligent, rigorous collection of essays, interviews, letters and advice about writing and literature. At times, especially in the interviews the discussion veers into some offbeat territory and Delany is so well read and articulate he can be a bit hard to follow at times, despite striving for clarity. He's aware of his own pretensions too, which is helpful. The beginning "An Introduction: Emblems of Talent" is worth reading or buying the book alone, especially ...more
Sep 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Samuel R. Delany is one of the most important science fiction writers of the second half of the 20th century. His first novel was published (in 1962) when he was 20. His novels have won HUGOS (the highest award of the World Science Fiction Society), Nebulas (Science Fiction Society of America) as well as other awards. I discovered Delany forty years ago and have read and re-read him ever since.

I am not going to "review" About Writing other than to say that it is a must read for anyone who writes
Ian Danskin
Aug 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Haven't found many other books on writing that were actually useful, but, then, Delany never writes shallowly (or briefly) about any topic. I'd call it necessary for any serious writer. (If you're a farmer, I hope you find the act of writing reeeeeeeaaaaally interesting.) He (naturally) finds opportunities to talk about secular meaning in The Book Of Genesis and to expound about Wagner, and like always it's just goddamn fascinating. But he also talks, in a way writers never do, about what the ...more
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
There are some interesting bits for writers in here, but I found Delany to be self-absorbed and arrogant and the book left a bad taste in my mouth.

Delany spends a lot of time explaining why most writers are no-talent hacks who should just quit and do something else. The irony is that Delany has attached himself, lamprey-like, to the workshop and writing community: hack writers are his meal ticket, and he'd be starving in the street if it weren't for the hacks lining up in droves to bask in his
Max Lybbert
Sep 29, 2013 rated it it was ok
I knew one writer who highly recommended this book. And while Delaney does include decent advice in here, he definitely prefers -- and recommends -- much more indirect prose than I like. I believe the longest chapter in the book is an interview about experimental writing. That chapter is interesting, but of limited use to me.

Delaney is a science fiction writer, and I picked up this book expecting it to focus on science fiction technique. But, it appears that Delaney is also a contemporary
Jan 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone serious about the art of writing.
Recommended to Kelvin by: I found it on a random bookstore jaunt.
If you're going to write anything at all, and you want to be fairly serious about what you're doing, read this. It will tell you, more or less [I vote more], the same information as any other book on the subject, but with more elegance, honest kindness, humor, erudition, and subtle fire than Delaney's normal mode of high-octane-concept blended with high-artistry. Extra points for it's literary recommendations, including Strunk and White's The Elements of Style in the excellent 3rd edition.

Steve Turtell
Oct 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
For those unfamiliar with Delany's work (and so far I only know some of his non-fiction, not being a science fiction fan) this is an excellent introduction to a superior critical mind. I recommend this to anyone teaching creative writing at the college level and above. Delany is, perhaps, too exacting for high school students or those who are not sure of their commitment to the art he practices with such rigor.
Apr 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay-lit, best-of-2015
An essential collection of Delany’s previously published non-fiction pieces centered around, obviously, writing. Like all his writing, so very smart and dense. A fun glimpse inside the mind and thought process that produced my favorite books of the year. Offers a road map of influences suggesting further reading such as Stein and Forster. As much a guide on how to be a reader as it is on how to be a writer. Looking forward to regularly rereading and referencing this in the years to come.
Aug 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
In 7 essays, 4 letters, and 5 interviews, Delany writes compellingly about narrative strategies, teaching in workshops, how literary reputations are made, what excites him about experimental fiction, the status of paraliterature, and other subjects.

His clear sure prose reassures me “critic” doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: research
Some very important insights in this book, particularly in the essays section. I didn't read all of the letters and all of the interviews, as they touched only tangentially on writing, but overall great book.

In particular read all of the essays (including the introduction), and also read the appendix. Lots of thoughtful advice in here to consider.
Aug 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
At times dense, at times theoretical, at times quite academic. At all times worth the effort for any serious writer. Unlike most books on writing, this collection has something new to say (several things in fact) and doesn't bother to rehash the same old truths except where it can offer new insights. Thoughtful and sincere, worthy.
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Samuel Ray Delany, also known as "Chip," is an award-winning American science fiction author. He was born to a prominent black family on April 1, 1942, and raised in Harlem. His mother, Margaret Carey Boyd Delany, was a library clerk in the New York Public Library system. His father, Samuel Ray Delany, Senior, ran a successful Harlem undertaking establishment, Levy & Delany Funeral Home, on ...more
“Good writing is clear. Talented writing is energetic. Good writing avoids errors. Talented writing makes things happen in the reader's mind---vividly, forcefully...” 32 likes
“Good writing is clear. Talented writing is energetic. Good writing avoids errors. Talented writing makes things happen in the reader’s mind — vividly, forcefully — that good writing, which stops with clarity and logic, doesn’t.” 5 likes
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