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Book Review

The Portable Creative Writing Workshop Pat Boran

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Publisher: Dedalus Press, paperback

1 of 1 Shift - now in its fourth edition, the skinny on getting started with your own writing.
Shift - now in its fourth edition, the skinny on getting started with your own writing.

This is the fourth edition of Shift (The Portable Creative Writing Workshop) Pat Boran's essential guide for the writer, aspirant or already realised author. Clearly there has been an exceptional demand from the unmessy ends of kitchen tables, both from this country and beyond. Everywhere, in other words, where new documents are opened on laptops in quiet hope, or where pen is put to paper as imagination is coaxed into action.

Particular attention is paid to the writing and editing of poetry and short fiction in this perceptive book. The cheeky subtitle puts it neat: a how-to, why-not, what-next guide for writers who prefer doing to endlessly talking about it & using up their best ideas in the process. The new updated section includes valuable advice on publishing, including self-publishing. The author is a poet, memoirist and publisher who is keenly aware of the startling speed of developments, notably in the thriving e-book business. E-publishing wasn’t even heard of when the first edition of this book was published.

The book displays a canny understanding of how writers see themselves and their place in the world. “The ideal reader for many is someone entirely unconnected to us and even physically far away,” observes the author, “a kind of creative pen-pal reading our words for pleasure but never in a simply passive way.” 

There are fascinating nuggets of advice from a host of well-known writers. Poet Paul Muldoon’s advice conjures a calm and patient approach, rather than feverish scribblings in the middle of the night. "Write one line at a time. Try to get it right as you go along. Don’t feel compelled to get it all down. If it’s of interest it’s not going anywhere. This doesn’t mean that one never goes back to revise. Only that the more attention one gives as one goes along the less need there’ll be to go back and repoint that brick at the foot of the wall." Roddy Doyle applies the same to fiction-writing. “Don’t be in a hurry. Time is the most effective editor.” Maeve Binchy urged that you tell yourself "in a stern voice that you must write TEN PAGES a week." 

Or take this from Seamus Heaney, who advised aspirant poets to keep reading those poets "who bring you to life." “Nobody can ever tell you how exactly they succeeded in writing the poems they believe in, so nobody can tell you how to write the ones you will have to believe in,” he wisely nudges.

In sum, 216 pages that will save you lot of bother, if you are about to let yourself loose on your own pages.

Paddy Kehoe

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