Review by Paula Vince
The back cover blurb of this book suggests that it should be placed on our shelves beside Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird' and Virginia Woolf's 'A Writer's Diary.' This recommendation, along with Amazon's 'Look Inside' feature had my interest piqued. It turns out to be a wonderful series of honest and thoughtful essays under the headings of Beginnings, Middles and Ends.
The book shows how life and writing are two inseparable strands in one rope. Dani Shapiro's life experiences, and the emotions they evoked, helped shape her books, and it is the same for us. She grew up as the lonely, only child of nervous, finicky parents who had her late in life. She lived with the pressure of being her creative mother's muse from a young age. Later, Shapiro's own baby boy was born with severe medical needs. Even though he grew to be a healthy young man, the mark these experiences left was branded on her soul.
The section on Beginnings has to do with adjusting our mindsets not only at the start of fresh projects but fresh days. Dealing with our inner censure (she calls hers a toxic little troll), our jigsaw puzzle minds, setting up conducive work environments and facing blank pages are some of the topics dealt with here. She also discusses good reading habits, picturing our audiences and giving ourselves permission to write.
Next comes Middles. This section helps us through those times when we've launched out okay but can't see any land in sight. Keeping in touch with our inspiration, clinging to trust, enjoying the rhythm, and perhaps having to backtrack and begin some parts again are some of the features. She helps us to examine our optimistic expectations that our writing projects should get easier at this point. I particularly appreciated Shapiro's comparing the middle of a story to humans who are considered middle-aged in true life.
Finally, her thoughts about Ends holds a congratulatory note that we've got so far. She discusses the promotional and business side of writing, as well as deadlines imposed by either ourselves or the world around us. Impatience is examined, and Shapiro warns us not to make the fatal mistake of pushing too quickly for shore as soon as we see the faint glimmer of a hazy horizon. Some authors may like her cautions about considering how family and friends may react to what we choose to disclose in our writing.
If you do get this book, I'd recommend that you keep a notebook and pen handy, as it's full of ideas which can't help making us say, 'I have something I can add to that.' I love the way Shapiro finishes with the title of her book. 'I am changing what I can. I am reaching a hand out to the dead and the living and the not yet born. So yes, I am still writing.'
Paula Vince is a South Australian author of contemporary, inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons, and loves to use her environment as settings for her stories. Her novel, 'Picking up the Pieces' won the religious fiction section of the International Book Awards in 2011,nd 'Best Forgotten' was winner of the CALEB prize the same year. She is also one of the four authors of 'The Greenfield Legacy', Australia's first and only collaborated Christian novel. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published April 2014. For more of Paula's reflections, please visit her blog, The Vince Review.