Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 124: The Way of the Writer by Charles Johnson

by | Apr 22, 2023 | Charles Johnson, Marion's Favorite Books, Marion's Favorites, Marion's Reading Life Blog, Nonfiction, Writing | 0 comments

As a writer, I have always been curious how other writers practice their craft, what they read, and how they conduct business. I believe you can learn a lot from other writers that are further down the writer’s journey than you are.  Charles Johnson’s The Way of the Writer provides a practical and inspiring guide about his writing journey as a fiction writer, book reviewer, and creative writing professor for nearly five decades.

The Way of the Writer is divided into six sections covering his apprenticeship of writing six novels before his first novel, Faith and the Good Thing, got published in 1974 to his writing process (he is a three draft writer and revises constantly before turning the manuscript into his editor) to having the late John Gardner (author of Grendel) as a mentor and the importance of that relationship. Johnson continues in the second half of the book about the dualistic responsibilities of being a writer-teacher. Also, he discusses the practicalities of being a literary fiction writer and the business aspects of it.  He finishes the book with a section about the connection between philosophy and literature. Johnson is a Buddhist and believes that spiritual practice has grounded his work and writers should have a spiritual foundation for their creativity.

There are some books as a reader you know will become highlighter books.  The Way of the Writer is that type of book for me. However, I will add that his perspective comes from a traditional publishing aspect of the business and he does place literary fiction above genre fiction in terms of its artistic qualities. Johnson’s writing in The Way of the Writer provides wisdom for writers who are pursuing it as a craft, and I recommend it to all writers, regardless of genre.

This amalgamation of quotes taken from the last section of the book, Philosophy and the Writer, drives home the point of what it means to write well:

“To write well. You need to have an open, inquisitive mind, one eager to learn what others have reported down through the ages on the very human question you are trying to clarify. Writing does not take place in a historical vacuum. If one hopes to make an artistic or intellectual contribution to Western literature, it follows that one should know what has come before, that is, what one is making a contribution to, and what our predecessors have thought and achieved.  Writing well is thinking well.”

Indeed.  Well done, Charles Johnson.



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