Posted by: oneyearbook | March 19, 2009

Book: Modern Library Writer’s Workshop

Modern Library Writer's Workshop

Writer's Workshop

At the library the other day I took out The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop, by Stephen Koch, mainly because it was one of the few books in the 808.3 section. (Wikipedia is telling me that 808 is ‘rhetoric & collections of literature’; librarians out there, why is it that 804 – and 819, and 789, among others – say ‘Not assigned or no longer used’? There’s something about that phrasing that makes me feel a little melancholy, as if a certain branch of human knowledge has passed out of the world entirely, never to be thought of again.)

Anyways, the book. I’m only on page 74 so far, and Koch has warned the reader that it is mainly aimed at the beginning writer, which I think is pretty much true. This shouldn’t particularly apply to me; after all, I have a four-year degree in writing, so if there was something about it that could be ‘taught’ or instructed in some way, I should already have been through that and passed the test, as it were. (However, although I’ve always talked about writing a novel, of the seven classes I took during my degree, only one was in fiction. Two were in playwriting, two were in creative non-fiction, and two in writing for children.) The fun of the book, however, is less in the writing instructions, but in the many, many quotes from famous writers on both how, and why, they write. It’s where I learned that previously cited tidbit about Stephen King and the one-season first draft.

Russell Brand on writing quickly at first: “The faster I can write, the more likely I’ll get something worth saving down …”

Tom Wolfe on why a word count is the best way to judge productivity: “Eighteen hundred words … if I can finish that in three hours, then I’m through for the day … If it takes me twelve hours, that’s too bad, I’ve got to do it.” He goes on to note that if he just says something like ‘Oh I’ll work for five hours today’ he can just endlessly waste time through those hours. So far I’ve found that the word count is working for me: so far, I’ve surpassed it every time, and I haven’t still been stuck in the chair at the end of the day, but I know some day I will be and it will be worth it to get those words down.

And more, from everyone from Nabokov to Woolf to Hemingway. It’s fun to see just how much writers like to talk, and write, about writing.



  1. Remind me to check; I have the 4-volume DDC in my office at work, and I can look into the death of 804, 819, and 789 for you. Handy to have a librarian for a mother sometimes, yes?

    • Those were just examples – the Dewey list seems littered with them, and I was just generally sort of curious about what sort of processes lead to the removal of a subject area or the expectation that there will need to be space eventually for something else, in the case where they haven’t been used. 789 I don’t really mind about, but I am more interested in the ones in the 800s.

  2. Hi,
    There is this nagging question in my mind.whether is spend more time thinking or I spend more time writing.a quote in your post says ” the more I write,the more I will get something worth saving”
    I am not a professional but I try to do at least one post a day on my blog so at least I am convinced of being a writer some day.
    What are your thoughts ?And how does a degree help you exactly.

    • Well, I think that there needs to be some thinking, at the start of any project, but from there I think that writing should take over – the thinking portion of the work gets done during the writing, as it were. And then once the first draft is done there’s time for thinking again.
      As to the degree, it remains to be seen how, exactly, it will help me. I do think it was useful in giving me the tools to be self-critical, especially when editing my own work, and the ability to hear and process constructive criticism without taking it as an insult. I’m regretting now that I didn’t take more fiction classes, though.

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