Douglas Wilson, in “Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life”, coaches aspiring writers using a pleasant mix of brevity, humor and theology. While many of his books focus on Christian faith, this work compiles well-earned advising for those who want to make a career out of pen and keyboard. Faith is a part of the writing journey as well, but the focus remains on fleshed-out ideas like reading one to two books a week until you’re a senior citizen or mastering your computer’s writing program so that you have all available help. Unsure of what to expect concerning another how-to manual, one charges on and is rewarded with valuable input. Wilson uses seven key points to introduce the chapters, and then unfolds seven more points in each of the chapters. Everything is concise, funny, and filled with grace in the instance of unpaid work. In the spirit of it all, I’ll try my hand at breaking down the book into seven key themes, with seven corresponding mantras.
1.Read more than facebook and pinterest allows you to:
Remembering those sweet, crazy ladies peering through glasses (Mrs. Thayer and Mrs. McCorkel, of course) and fussing at us for not reading all of Romeo and Juliet or The Canterbury Tales brings a warm tear to my heart. They meant well. Pushing through Old English strophes meant building up the muscles of endurance. In this nanosecond society, I’m beginning to crave more and more books. Instead of crossing it off my wily list, I can add the words to my heart and brain for no other reason except pleasure and betterment. Good call, Mr. Wilson.
2.Review that grammar and don’t be afraid of dictionaries:
The first time spent enjoying the Merriam-Webster dictionary came in Ms. Pritchett’s seventh-grade classroom. The culprit was “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Poe, then everything else he brilliantly crafted. Our thick red dictionary began to drip like blood from the previously mentioned heart. I couldn’t get enough. Now, I sneak by with the online M-W version. It’s time for a reunion, and also a much-needed rereading of “The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing.” What’s a predicate again? Whoops…
3.Take your six-year-old self and some clerihew to the playground:
Wilson reminded me what a clerihew is: “a bit of short comic verse, containing a couple of rhymed of couplets, mentioning somebody famous” (pg. 69). Six-year-olds are a few years above toddlers, who run around in diapers with no shirt and say whatever is on their mind. If I could apply this to my writing, who knows what fun manga-illustrated novel of fictional espionage would be born?
4.(The favorite at this still young stage of life) Be proud to throw out those nasty sonnets:
Being told I could be anything is true—I can be a bad, lazy writer. In his own words: “What you delete from your computer, what you take out of your prose, is as important as what you leave in. It is not a loss.” So if pruning and trimming my body of work like a bonsai tree will lead to artistic fulfillment, why would I exchange that for a hurried pile of compost (slush, as publishers call it)?
5.Don’ give up on French, pas encore!:
Exploring the languages of other humans is a lovely, rich task to undertake. The really difficult ones are especially rewarding, but if you’re not ready for Indo-European, practicing Spanish verbs will not only make you new friends but teach you to cast a bigger vision in writing. What is the purpose of our language, and how can it be studied from another angle? Rosetta Stone, I’m on my way…
6.Obsessive ideation is a good thing:
No longer embarrassed to admit the stacks of notebook paper detailing styles of swords, histories of the Mafia, and “purple satin cowl-neck blouses,” I am free to keep jotting down these weird things everywhere. They may help with the spy novel, “Capone, Rapiers, and Half-Off At T.J. Maxx.”
7.Writing is a glorious chore and Wilson is not a racist:
If you have no idea about the latter statement, just skip to the third sentence. A person’s soul is evident in their writing, and if you’ve thoroughly read more than this author’s one sentence about slavery in the Bible, you’ll see that he is someone worthy of a coffee date. For everything a book can say about writing, I’ve learned that the journey is insanely arduous and incredibly awesome. This is a book I’ll be revisiting when creative times get tough.