Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Review: Because You Have To: A Writing Life, by Joan Frank

Because You Have To: A Writing Life
by Joan Frank 
University of Notre Dame Press
200 pages

With The Husband's recent cancer treatments, surgery, and recovery, much that makes up our everyday lives got rearranged and shifted. In November, I learned that life is not business as usual during such times - even with family driving several hours to help.

In November, the month of The Cancer, not many books were read. (But this one was one of them.) Nor did many reviews get written. Best laid plans, and all that. Apologies were sent to authors via Facebook and, thankfully, gratefully accepted.

So this review, then, is one of them - a little later than promised, but I say all this as preamble because it somehow kind of fits with Joan Frank's Because You Have To: A Writing Life. It seems odd to have been reading a book on writing during a time when I had absolutely zero of it to write much of anything other than a grocery list, much less write a sentence of a novel (especially during a month when I looked wistfully on as everyone else was NaNo-ing their hearts and hair out).

But in a way, Because You Have To was probably one of the most perfect books for me to read at this time.

That's because Joan Frank gets this writing life in a way that is so authentic and real, and this comes across the pages as easily as if you are sharing several hours - and stories and knowing nods - over a cup of coffee or tea. She is that understanding friend who doesn't tell you how to write but rather commiserates with you about all the ways that being a writer is simultaneously wonderful, exhausting, satisfying, frustrating, freeing, and ever-changing.

Because You Have To appears to be a slim book but it is one that is packed full with a treasure trove of advice. Perhaps advice is the wrong word. None of this is preachy or heavy-handed. Instead, in a book that has been described as part-memoir, Frank shares what has and hasn't worked. For her.

With an abundance of quotes from other writers and enough anecdotes that the reader knows that Frank has been in the trenches, it is all here: on finding the time during one's day to write; on getting rejected and getting published; the "spit and Band-Aids" business of writing (applying for grants, submitting proposals); on telling people that you're a writer and everything that this entails (it's not always a glamorous reaction); on different writing styles and rituals; on establishing friendships with other writers and the occasional jealousy and envy that can arise in light of others' success; on the pros and cons of writing communities (writing groups, MFA programs); on reviewing books (including those from well-meaning friends) and on responding to negative reviews as a writer (a section that a few more authors on certain social media sites would be well advised to read).

She also explores reading - for it's a given that writers should (must) read - and Frank provides enough quotes from  influential books and authors in her own life to fill up several more. She discusses literary trends, the future of the book itself, and the trickiness of recommending books to friends.

In addition to Because You Have To: A Writing Life, Joan Frank is the author of two story collections (In Envy Country and Boys Keep Being Born) and three novels (Make It Stay, The Great Far Away, and Miss Kansas City). She has won literary awards and is quite accomplished, yet she comes across as completely down-to-earth.

This book presents the writing life as it is: unvarnished, a bit rough, but ours for what we want to make of it. I absolutely loved this and as such, this will absolutely be on my favorite nonfiction books list for 2012. If there are any writers on your holiday gift list, you won't go wrong getting them a copy of this book. It goes right up there with Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and The Writer's Survival Guide by Rachel Simon as among my favorite books by writers for writers.

Visit Joan Frank's website for more information about her and her work. Special thanks to TLC Book Tours for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. I was not compensated in any other way. In addition, I thank my friends at TLC as well as my new friend Joan Frank for all your your patience and understanding in my delay in getting the book read and this review written.

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Sue Jackson said...

This sounds wonderful, right up my alley! And I've been meaning to read Rachel Simon's Writer Survival Guide but haven't gotten to it yet. I invited her to our neighborhood book group last year, and she was a big hit. I really enjoyed meeting her.

Hope this book provided some good distraction for you during this difficult time - thinking of you...


Book By Book

Thaisa Frank said...

I love your review of this book. It really captures everything about Because You Have To that I loved. To my mind, it's the best book about writing and the writing life I've ever read. (Note: even though we share the same last name, Joan Frank isn't a relation. Also--I'm very skeptical about such books.)