Eva van Emden, Freelance Editor

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November 26, 2013

The Elements of Authorship by Arthur Plotnik

Arthur Plotnik: Elements of Authorship Arthur Plotnik is always fun to read. In this combination manual and memoir, he lays out all the ins and outs of the world of writing—and he’s done it all: studying at the Iowa writers’ workshop, journalism, commercial writing, editing a magazine, you name it. If you’re committed to being a writer, this is your guide to the landscape of the trade.

The contents

  • Studying to write—the highlights of the writers workshops
  • Lessons to be learned from journalism
  • Writing full-time
  • Writing at home
  • Working as a commercial writer
  • How to please editors
  • The personal lives of writers
  • Getting published (“The Pit and the Pinnacle”)
  • Style and how to write well
  • Finances of writing and contracts
  • Being a poet
  • Technical considerations
  • Becoming obsolete
Every so often a newspaper reports on the “fecal dust” that blows through certain cities from the open latrines of shanty-towns. The imagery sticks in one’s mind, with that piercing word fecal and the unsettling notion of airborne waste. We thank heaven we don’t breathe it, yet day and night we are assailed by toxic drivel from office, media, and motor-mouthed acquaintances. Choked on this fecal verbiage, people turn to the literary word for refreshment.

For writers, the listener’s time is always suspended until the words can gather force. One attraction of writing is this magical opportunity to rummage for the bon mot or perfect squelch or ultimate love call while the world stands frozen. And so the writer struggles with words, chooses them with care, arranges them to refresh the listener’s mind and ear, then heaves them out and shops for better words and rearranges them for hours, days, months, until nothing can be added, excluded, or shifted to make them more refreshing, more stimulating. But when the words are uncorked in print, the effect is instantaneous: “By God, that’s what I would have said if I’d had a year to think about it!”

—“What Readers Want”

Reviewed from a library copy of the book.