Book Review: Writing Ourselves
When I first heard about this book, I jumped at the opportunity to review it. The book is about creative writing, which is what I love to do. I’ve read other books on creative writing, but this book is unique because it specifically talks about LDS writers and Mormon literature. I enjoyed the writing style of this book. It was very personable and amusing to read.
Though Harrell talked about creative writing, I found myself studying the book closely, thinking, “Wow, this is exactly what I’ve observed throughout my life!” The things he says about writing completely relate to real life. Also, I was pleased to see that several things in this book relate to feminist views.
Harrell talks about a step in the creative process called “The Wall.” “Sometimes we think the wall is a sign that we’re on the wrong track. But the wall is a normal part of the process. When we understand complications and walls as expected stages, we’re poised to move into the next state—the breakthrough” (11). Harrell is very positive and shows that when a person fails at something, it’s not the end of the world. Failure is a normal part of life. “After pushing against the wall—or not pushing (sometimes the most productive thing is to stop pushing)—it eventually gives way. At least most of the time. However, this can take a very long time” (11). I very much appreciated this quote. Sometimes it feels like I’m facing a wall in my life (or in my stories), but I believe that Harrell is saying that we shouldn’t stress too much over certain things.
Harrell says that some people write because they need it. I know I certainly do! If I don’t write, I feel like there’s a hole in my life that needs to be filled. Harrell declares that conflict is essential to a story.
“When it comes to Mormon writers, I’d rather see writers motivated by some insistent need to process a deep and troubling internal conflict. By contrast, Mormon writers who seemingly have no internal conflict, who are wholly certain of themselves and the rightness of their position on any number of matters, they might be more interested in lecturing than writing” (35).
Harrell gives this advice to LDS writers: “Write about the strange things you believe in, incorporate into your writing your own peculiar worldviews—orthodox or not…Face your demons and angels and write about them. This is the only way to face the difficulties of writing—by staring them down and coming off conqueror” (45).
Harrell believes that violence should be used in literature only to show readers that “when life is hard, it’s worth the struggle” (21). He adds that there are proper ways to depict sexual content in literature, and also proper ways to depict evil.
Harrell says that instead of taking a deterministic or nihilistic view, Mormon writers view the universe “as being shaped by choices” (66). It was also interesting when Harrell talked about God taking chaos and organizing it, creating something new. He compares that to writers, who take their pile of ideas and create something with it.
Harrell talked about the four periods of Mormon literature: Foundations, Home Literature, Lost Generation, and Faithful Realism. I was pleased to find the names of Emmeline B. Wells, Eliza R. Snow, and Susa Young Gates. Several church periodicals were mentioned, including the Woman’s Exponent. Page 104 talked about female writers and feminism.
A few interesting things from church history which I’d never heard before were also mentioned. For example, the first Mormon short story was called “A Dialogue between Joe Smith and the Devil” and was written by Parley P. Pratt. I’m curious to read it! You can find it here.
At the very end, Harrell invites you to write. “Get a pen, right now. Whatever you’re thinking, write it down. It’s time for answers. It’s time for questions. It’s time to get started. It’s time to go. Trust me. You won’t come back the same” (146). This book definitely gives me the motivation to write and explore my thoughts and organize the stresses of life through my writing. I recommend this book not just to writers, but to everyone. It’s not just about writing, but how to live a better life.