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    Review of WRITING PAST DARK by Bonnie Friedman

    HarperCollins, 1993

    Anyone who announces he's a writer is likely to be approached by someone. "I've got an idea for a story," they'll say. "How about if I give you the idea, you write it, and then we split the money." According to author Bonnie Friedman, that's the problem many authors face--they think that the ideas are something special, that they need to be bigger. But writing is just words, and words are about things. Friedman says that if you get the details right, the ideas will come. You don't have to try to bury symbolism--symbols and meanings aren't buried. When you took that literature class (the good one), you didn't learn to dig out deep inner meanings, you learned to recognize the meanings in everyday things.

    If you like that lesson, you'll like a lot of the ideas in Friedman's WRITING PAST DARK. In a series of connected essays on writing, Friedman deals with envy, with what she learned (and didn't learn) in the writing workshop at University of Iowa, with writers block and anorexia (for Friedman, the two are tightly linked), and with the need to be discovered. Friedman is right, I think, in warning us that being discovered isn't the goal. Being discovered won't make your writing any better, your insights any more penetrating, your gags funnier. The desire to be so perfect you will surely be discovered can weaken you, leave you writing vapid nothings--or nothing at all.

    WRITING PAST DARK is a highly personal book. It doesn't try to teach the basis of writing (except that it's about peas). It doesn't give techniques for dealing with envy, writers block, rejection, and the other topics Friedman deals with. Instead, it's a highly readable account of how one woman has dealt with her envy, block, fear of rejection, and of some of the lessons she's learned and re-learned along the way.

    Reading WRITING PAST DARK is like listening to a monologue by a person who's interesting but not, you think, a great deal like you. And then, all of a sudden, something hits and you realize that it is you after all. Because all writers deal with these things--we wouldn't be writers if we didn't think we had something we needed to say--and weren't simultaneously afraid it had been said already, and better than we ever could manage. If Friedman doesn't give us easy answers (and she doesn't), maybe it's because the answers aren't that easy.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 1/25/06

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    What do you think? Too generous? Too stingy? Or did I miss the entire point? Send your comments to Give me the okay to use your name and I'll publish all the comments that fit (and don't use unprintable language).