Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life
By Judy Reeves
New World Library
1999, ISBN 1-57731-100-0
rrp $16.95, 240pp
I had writer’s block for period of some 8 years. I simply didn’t feel like writing; felt like I had nothing valid to write about, told people my earlier published work was childlike, immature, self-absorbed. It was perhaps a time of reflection, of self-definition; perhaps a necessary break, or what Judy Reeves calls “a pause in the action”. If I had had Judy Reeve’s A Writer’s Book of Days, I’m sure that, in any case, I would have continued to write. The book is, quite simply, a superb reference for writers which contains 365 topics to keep writers writing every day. The idea is that writers commit to doing a daily writing practice: “showing up at the page”, and doing a brief exercise. The benefits of doing this include the creation of work which can potentially be turned into something bigger – a piece, a story, a novel. The practice also helps writers to find their voice, to hone their craft, and to increase their idea flow. As an artist, you need to practice, to keep the words flowing, and the more you write, the better you will write, the better you will know what sparks your writing, and the more your work will develop its unique character. Writers write. It makes perfect sense.
Reeves is a writing teacher who has led many creative writing workshops, and is also a participant in a number of writing practice groups. A Writer’s Book of Days is written in a personal, down to earth way that immediately makes you feel like you are with Reeves, supported by her, and working with her. The book is divided into chapters based on the 12 months of the year, with seasonal topics to guide the practice sessions. Practice topics include things like: “Remember a sound”, “What if”, “You have stayed too long”, “Write about a premonition”, “Write about the making of beds”, “Half an hour before sunrise”, and other evocative topics – 365 of them, There is also a section at the end of each month, “Beyond Practice”, which provides a miniworkshop for a once-a-month special session which includes things like going on retreat, having a writing marathon, or writing in a café.
In addition to the writing exercises, there are guidelines for writing practice, information on how to use notebooks, creating a writing space, on how to avoid pitfalls like self-sabotage, censorship, false starts, boring writing, perfectionism, how to tell if your writing is improving, how to be vulnerable on the page, taking risks, how to get unstuck, using family stories, accoutrements to your practice sessions, how to start a writing group, what to do with your practice pages, dealing with writer’s block and how that is different from being stuck, creating a discipline, using your dreams, using the library, using writing to heal yourself, setting goals, creating your own topics, and a whole lot more. The book is also filled with quotes from other writers. There are quotes on every page from well known and not so well known writers, along with bits of information about things like how great writers “invoked the muse”, “Ten Top Fears of Writers”, “Ten Top Joys of Writers”, Writers’ views on reading, on dreaming, on their heroes, their quirks, habits, and commandments.
By the end of the first month, it would be a rare writer who wasn’t writing more, even if they don’t decide to specifically do the writing exercises. There are simply so many ideas, so much encouragement, and so much that is evocative and challenging in A Writer’s Book of Days. Sensitive, informative, practical, and fun to read, this is a book to take with you; a portable and inexpensive writing class, and continual source of inspiration.