Book: Crafting a Life in Essay, Story, Poem by Donald M. Murray
Publication date: 1996
Source: Purchased for $1 at the Greater St. Louis Book Fair
Summary: Crafting a Life is a slim book consolidating the wisdom of journalist, author, and writing professor Donald M. Murray. It begins with an inspiring introduction called “Why I Write.” Every writer will see him or herself in some of the answers that include “I write to slay my dragons” and “I write to avoid boredom.” The first two chapters cover the strategies and attitudes in the writer’s toolbox from creating writing habits to cultivating receptivity.
The heart of the book are the three chapters highlighted in the subtitle. These encourage to the writer to “try on” each of the three genres of essay, fiction, and poetry. He explores the ways these forms of writing are approached, pointing out differences and similarities. Each chapter includes extended examples with side notes explaining why the writer made the choices that he did with that piece.
A final chapter covers the community that surrounds a writer, from fellow writers to editors to readers, as well as revision, editing, and publishing.
Thoughts: I’ve had this book on my shelf for two or three years. I read it now because I realized that I wanted my New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge to include a book to support a write more resolution. The title of the book, as it sat on my shelf, popped out at me when I was considering my One Word for 2013. I chose CRAFT because I want it to be a year of practicing my writing craft while crafting a life around that. This book, as the title of Crafting a Life promised, was perfect to begin a year focused on CRAFT.
Donald M. Murray, who died in 2006, was in his 70s when he wrote this book. He distills a lifetime of experience — writing, teaching, and living — into this book.
The early chapters helped me establish my new writing habit — 2 hours a day, 5 days a week. I’m not perfect, but much better than I’ve ever been before. He includes quotes from many writers about their writing habits.
I loved the passage from Annie Dillard that said it’s not about willpower, even though people on the outside think it is. I found that true for losing weight as well. Every one thinks it’s about willpower when really it’s about strategy and channeling one’s love of food in healthy directions. Dillard says that writing is like rearing children — you don’t feed a crying baby because of will power, you do it because of love. I write for the same reason that Murray wrote:
I write and learn. I write against my own intent, saying what I do not expect to say, and discover the shape and texture and meaning of the world in which I live. My writing is a celebration–sometimes painful, more often joyful–of the life I am leading. But it will not happen without my morning habit of writing. (p. 15)
Throughout the book there are hints about how to craft not only a piece of writing, but a life through this creative pursuit. Here’s one from the essay chapter:
We tolerate a great deal of conflict, disorder and contradiction in our lives, but we turn to art to discover meaning (maybe not the meaning, but at least a meaning). (p. 65)
And, here’s my favorite near the end of the book:
I revel in the art of revision. I am rarely as happy as I am when I am crafting my text and therefore my life. (p. 141)
Appeal: Crafting a Life is for writers at a point when they’re ready to think deeply about how their craft effects their life and vice versa. This is also a lovely book for teachers of writing, a way to explore one’s own craft while reflecting on how to draw out related experiences from your students.
Challenges: This is my final book for the New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge, supporting my resolution to write more. Here were my previous three books for that challenge:
Book Review: Thin for Life by Anne Fletcher to support my resolution, figure out weight maintenance.
Book Review: Smart Chefs Stay Slim by Allison Adato to support my resolution, figure out weight maintenance.
Book Review: 2013 Create Your Incredible Year by Leonie Dawson to support my resolution, think deeply about what comes next.
See other book reviews by participants in the New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge on our link-up post: New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge — Review Links.
How are your New Year goals and resolutions going on the last day of January? Would a book help?