A review of The Write Advice – Inspirations, Observations and Affirmations from Classic and Contemporary Writers by Michael Meanwell

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

The Write Advice:
Inspirations, Observations and Affirmations from Classic & Contemporary Writers
By Michael Meanwell
US$19.97, 300 pages, ebook, Third Edition, 2008

I’m in two minds about affirmations. On the one hand, my ‘child-of-hippies’ pragmatic self wants to reject the whole idea as new age claptrap. Just get on with your writing, already. You don’t need a mantra. On the other hand, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone, especially writers, who didn’t have some kind of negative self-talk going on in his or her head. It’s a part of our culture. We’re constantly beating ourselves up about our appearance, the quality of our work, our overall abilities, and on and on until it’s no wonder that paralysis sets in. The idea of affirmations is that we replace the negative soundtrack in our heads with a positive one. Do it often enough and it becomes a habit. Model your affirmations on those of successful people and you may also become successful. It’s the basis of just about every major self-help program out there, from Neurolinguistic Programmers, to The Secret, to the work of Anthony Robbins. Affirm that you can do it well often enough and it becomes embedded in your subconscious mind, and ultimately a reality.

Michael Meanwell’s book The Write Advice is based on that notion — that in order to achieve something positive we need to be positive about ourselves — affirming our capabilities, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, and modeling ourselves on the successful. Updated, expanded and re-released this year with a new title, the book was originally published in 2001 as Writers on Writing. It now contains over 520 quotations, and over 210 affirmations specifically chosen to help writers. Meanwell has taken those quotations and headed them with affirmations. There are 24 different sections, each focused on an aspect of writing, such as why we write, how we generate creativity, developing that all important daily discipline, dealing with criticism and rejection, developing a regular process/schedule, techniques and so on. At the end of each chapter is a profile of a famous, well respected author. It’s a nicely laid out book with good pictures, plenty of white space, and crisp, non-intimidating fonts that work well on-screen. The interactive links makes it easy to browse in a targeted way.

You could read the book straight through, but I don’t think it would be an easy thing to do. There are too many voices to be able to absorb it all linearly. It’s better to take it slowly – perhaps using a quote a day at the start of your writing process. There’s enough to keep you going through a full novel or so (not at my rate I’m afraid, but most people can write a novel in under 2 years). Or you can use it to attack an issue that’s affecting your work. If you’re struggling with time management (who isn’t?), then click on “I always have time to write” in the index and you will come across Charles Buxton’s “You will never ‘find’ time for anything. If you want time you must make it.” Had a bad review? Then scroll down to “I don’t take criticism personally,” and read Faulkner’s “It wasn’t until the Nobel Prize that they really thawed out. They couldn’t understand my books, but they could understand $30,000.” (so you aren’t alone). Not sure where to begin? Go ask Lewis (Carroll that is): “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.” It’s not bad advice, though, like most affirmations and quotations, it may seem just a little too glib and obvious. Obvious maybe, but just getting on with it is probably the biggest part of most writer struggles.

This isn’t really a book to teach you how to write, although there are gems amongst the quotes which go deeper than Carroll’s tongue-in-cheek quip. Instead, it’s a book that you can dip into, at leisure, for inspiration or to help replace the negative talk with positive talk. Instead of saying that you aren’t writing because you have writer’s block or because you have nothing to say, why not try telling yourself “I have a terrific imagination,” or “I write today and every day” without getting too caught up in the quality of it. Because quality is something that can’t always be easily identified. Don’t believe it? Try scrolling to the end of the book and reading what writers have written about each other. Keats called Byron’s work a “bedlam vision produced by raw port and opium.” Capote called Updike (and just about every other writer) a bore. There are even famous last words (“I Die” was one of my favourites).

The Write Advice is an interesting collection of affirmations and sayings that you can enjoy whenever you need a little inspiration, to get yourself going, or just for a laugh. This is a neatly presented, well chosen group of sayings that can prove valuable for both changing your mindset, and finding camaraderie and support from the most lofty sources.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup.