Thursday, October 06, 2005

active writing in a tale of grief...

...can be found in The Year of Magical Thinking, writer Joan Didion's forthright memoir of the year following the death of her husband, novelist John Gregory Dunne. At the same time, her adult daughter, Quintana, lay in a hospital in a coma brought on by septic shock. The book turns her typical honest eye on her year of family trauma, piecing together what happened along with her memories. We studied Didion's essays in journalism school (try The White Album or Slouching Towards Bethlehem, for preference) because her writing demonstrates what we try to teach in our writing seminars and coaching: Use powerful nouns and active verbs instead of adjectives and adverbs to strengthen your writing. Consider this excerpt from the new book, powerful not only due to the subject, but the construction:

I remember trying to straighten out in my mind what would happen next. Since there was an ambulance crew in the living room, the next logical step would be going to the hospital. It occurred to me that the crew could decide very suddenly to go to the hospital and I would not be ready. I would not have in hand what I needed to take. I would waste time, get left behind. I found my handbag and a set of keys and a summary John's doctor had made of his medical history. When I got back to the living room, the paramedics were watching the computer monitor they had set up on the floor. I could not see the monitor so I watched their faces. I remember one glancing at the others.

We recommend this new read, but note that our favorite bookstore, Politics & Prose, is already having trouble keeping this in stock and predicts another printing soon. You can order from them online -- they'll ship anywhere, and are a winner of Publisher's Weekly's "Bookseller of the Year" award. Ask about our writing seminars and coaching at

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