Saturday, January 5, 2013
"Because You Have To: A Writing Life," by Joan Frank
In her new book, “Because You Have To: A Writing Life” (University of Notre Dame Press, 2012), Joan Frank gives readers a sense of what it is really like to be a serious writer. This is not a “how-to” book, but rather one that speaks candidly, even painfully, about trying to wrest enough time free to write, dealing with rejection, reading and learning from the work of other writers (she quotes the great writer William Maxwell as saying “All I ask of life is the privilege of being able to read”), dealing with envy, being a reviewer, going on writer’s retreats at writing colonies, trying to balance writing with family as well as with the work that pays the bills, and more. Frank is generous in sharing her own experiences, feelings, fears, and ups and downs over the course of her long writing life. She is particularly eloquent on how important it is for writers to have stretches of uninterrupted time, and on how hard it is for many – perhaps most – writers to find this time. She also writes about the joy of writing when things are going well. And, as the title says, she advises that if you feel you have to write, then you must find a way. Because I have read, liked, and posted on all five of Frank’s books of fiction (see my posts of 7/6/10, 7/11/10, 12/31/10, and 4/9/12); because she lives in, and sets much of her fiction in, Northern California, settings very close and familiar to me; and because she sometimes reviews books for my local paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I feel quite connected to her work. This new nonfiction book gives me more insight into her writing and the writing life. It is a slim book (just 200 pages), and an absorbing one. Anyone who is a writer or who wants to be one, as well as anyone who loves reading, will enjoy and learn from this book.