A Review of Writer’s Guide by Irina Dunn

While the book suffers from trying to cover too much and therefore being a jack of all trades and master of none, there is still plenty of material here for both the beginner and the experienced writer, much of it derived from Dunn’s own considerable experience in obtaining resources and networking on a local (Australian and New Zealand) basis. As the Executive Director of the NSW Writers’ Centre for over 10 years, Dunn has provided considerable advice to budding writers, and is very well aware of what is available on a local scale with respect to things like governmental support, the variety of networking groups (and their specific worth), classes, copyright, what is required for local publication, the local publishing industry, and the best way of promoting your work locally.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Writer’s Guide:
A companion to writing for pleasure or publication
by Irina Dunn
Allen & Unwin
September 2002, ISBN 1-86508-832-3
RRP A$26.95

Although there are many guides to writing from all sorts of angles and perspectives, books specifically for the Antipodean author are fairly rare. This is a pity, since the local scene is a thriving one, and much of the information a writer needs is local, including local opportunities for grants, publishing, writers groups and more. The Australian Writers’ Marketplace is perhaps the most useful local resources on the market today for Aussie based Writers, but with the exception of a few included essays, it is a compendium of resources rather than a writers “how to.” Irina Dunn’s book The Writer’s Guide attempts to be both a resource and a how to guide, providing an encyclopediac listing of how to write about anything and everything, what to do to network and get that work published. The book covers a very wide range of writing topics from why and what you should write, through to every type of writing from functional/commercial/technical through to nonfiction, stories, poetry, novels, film and television, theatre, childrens’ books, Internet and multimedia. There are chapters on developing good writing habits, what tools you need, interviewing, researching, joining support groups, performance skills, and translating. There are also very extensive chapters on getting published, promoting your book, earning money from your writing, obtaining grants and even managing your taxes, along with a full listing of resources from agents, assessment services, publishers of all sorts, festivals and events, legal deposit libraries, magazines, writer organisations and payment rates. All of the information is specifically geared towards the Australian and New Zealand marketplace, so the book will really only be relevant in a more specific sense to writers based in this part of the world. Of course that is its strength.

The book suffers a little from trying to cover too much ground. There are so many topics covered, many (even all) of which could be (and have been) the basis for a whole book, that it is hard for Dunn to do more than skim the surface. Also, much of the information is very much geared towards the beginning writer, especially chapters on “Getting Started” and “Kinds of Writing” which are fairly basic. An experienced writer probably would want to skip these chapters altogether, since advice on things like writing habits, what a person might write about, and even how to use a word processor and the Internet are really simple:

You may be a young person looking for avenues to express your thoughts and feelings about the world. Perhaps you are already working in the communications field and dream of moving across to creative writing. You may be a writing tutor who wishes to improve both your teaching and writing skills, or you could be at home wanting a creative outlet whil caring for young children, or retired and looking for an interesting pursuit. Whatever your situation, writing offers a pleasurable, stimulating and inexpensive occupation that can be carried out solo in your own time, in your own home, and at your own pace. (4-5)

Other chapters however, are much more detailed and complex, and would not appeal to a beginner or someone writing solely for their own pleasure, such as the well put together chapter on Getting Published, which covers everything from submissions, self-publishing, to submitting queries, finding an agent, negotiating a contract and suitable royalties, and even dealing with issues on rights.

Throughout the book, on nearly every page, are an excellent range of boxed quotes from well known and not so well known writers, ranging from the inspirational, to the practical, and these are well chosen, providing some of the most interesting, thought provoking text in the book. There are also a range of sideboarded indications on where to find more information and cross links through the book.

While the book suffers from trying to cover too much and therefore being a jack of all trades and master of none, there is still plenty of material here for both the beginner and the experienced writer, much of it derived from Dunn’s own considerable experience in obtaining resources and networking on a local (Australian and New Zealand) basis. As the Executive Director of the NSW Writers’ Centre for over 10 years, Dunn has provided considerable advice to budding writers, and is very well aware of what is available on a local scale with respect to things like governmental support, the variety of networking groups (and their specific worth), classes, copyright, what is required for local publication, the local publishing industry, and the best way of promoting your work locally. The resources section is very useful, although again, The Australian Writers’ Marketplace is a much more detailed and up-to-date resource guide. Perhaps this book’s most appropriate reader is that of the beginning writer – someone just embarking on a creative writing course or degree, who is uncertain of whether to make writing a career or hobby, or who isn’t sure which type of writing they want to do or even how to go about getting started. For these writers, the compendium approach will be very helpful, providing a very useful overview of every aspect of creative writing, and helping new writers discover their own niche and providing lots of hints and tips. Later chapters can then be consulted as a reference, providing contacts, and good ideas for publishing and promotion which can be followed up in more detail elsewhere. For anyone else, the book is still interesting, and contains useful information which will certainly be referred to, but may not have much impact on the actual quality of writing.

For more information on The Writers’ Guide visit: Writer’s Guide

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