Writer’s Gym ed. Eliza Clark
A lot of creative writing “how-to” books land on my desk. I skim through most of them and maybe, if I’m lucky, pick out one or two exercises or examples I want to use in class. But really, those how-to books are usually stuffy, sometimes pompous, and almost always big and heavy and intimidating. They aren’t inviting, they don’t offer a good entry point for me (or, I think, for students).
Writer’s Gym is completely different, so much so that I am tempted to start assigning it as a textbook (except for that students could look ahead for the punchline of each exercise!).
For one thing, many of the writers who contributed are Canadian (like the editor, Eliza Clark, and the publisher, Penguin Canada). Not that that is in any way a requirement for a good creative writing book, but it’s a good entry point. The fact that I’ve met and/or actually read the books of a lot of the contributors at least makes me, the instructor, unusually enthusiastic about it as a textbook.
(Some of the contributors are Andrew Pyper, Michael Redhill, Steven Heighton, Priscila Uppal, Lee Gowan, Antanas Sileika, Greg Hollingshead, Marnie Woodrow, and Catherine Bush. The heavy-hitters include Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland, and Dave Eggers.)
The book, and the essays, are short and pithy. (The book is less than 200 pages.) Because it’s an anthology, the exercises exhibit great variety in style and approach, something that’s often missing from the same-old how-to books. Some of my current favourites are Dave Eggers’s exercise (in which students interview each other and then put their classmates in stories as fictional characters), Andrew Pyper’s (in which clichés are ruthlessly exposed), and Steven Heighton’s (in which great prose is cluttered up and then de-cluttered again).
Look for those exercises in a classroom near you.