Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Review of Story Craft, by John R. Erickson

Erickson is the author of the popular Hank the Cowdog books, of which I have read none. Yet. Now I want to. I became aware of Story Craft on the pages of World Magazine, and added it to my Christmas wish list, a wish happily fulfilled.

Part One is a fascinating memoir, detailing Erickson’s journey of becoming a writer. He developed a highly disciplined approach to writing daily, stuck with it through over a thousand rejections and some number of (still) unpublished novels, and finally found success submitting stories to magazines. Erickson then decided to self-publish in the days before print-on-demand and Createspace. What I drew from this section of the book is how unlikely it is that I will ever see financial success as an author. Those are just the cold, hard facts of the publishing world. This would have discouraged me—except for Part Two.

“Faith, Culture, and the Craft of Writing” is the title and subject matter of Part Two. This is the best part of the book. Erickson approaches culture, writing, and art from a straightforward, unadorned West Texas philosophical perspective. He examines what makes good art good (beauty, structure, content, justice, and often humor) and anchors his thinking in the Christian worldview. He is decidedly opinionated (and admits it), but I find his opinions decidedly biblical. It was in Part Two that I heard most clearly the call to keep writing, no matter whether I am ever “successful” at getting published. This section of the book contains tremendous encouragement for the Christian artist to be true to the call, the vocation, without getting overly caught up in the reception of his work—or lack thereof. Erickson’s basic message is that if God has gifted you to write, then write.

Erickson offers twenty specific tips on writing in Part Three, some of which you’ve heard before (don’t use too many adverbs, don’t write in the passive voice), some of which are practical (have a skill that will support you), and some of which are a plea for preserving the culture (don’t write anything that will shame your mother).

This is an excellent and encouraging book for aspiring writers. The most valuable part is his philosophy on art and culture expressed in the second section of the book. Highly recommended.

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