Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Because You Have To by Joan Frank

My family likes to ask me when I'm going to write my bestselling novel.  My husband tells me he'd be perfectly happy to have me support him in the lap of luxury through my writing.  The loveliest thing about these questions is that they are in earnest.  They really believe that I not only have a book in me but that my writing is fantastic and that of course the whole world would buy whatever I wrote.  The reality of it though is that no matter what my writing is like good, bad, or indifferent, I know and understand the publishing world too well to think that anything about the process as they see it is likely (nevermind the discipline I currently lack in terms of actually writing an entire book).  If I had any ideas left about the glamour of a writing life, and having been the intern in charge of wading through the slush pile at a small publisher many, many years ago, I really don't, this collection of essays by Joan Frank, musings on various different aspects of being a writer, reviewer, and reader, would certainly bring me back to reality.

Written over many years and previously published elsewhere, these essays pulled together here represent the good and the bad, the sublime and the frustrating, the victories and the disappointments inherent in choosing, nay, in being compelled to live the life of a writer.  Frank is a published author of five novels, essays, and short stories so she knows from whence she writes.  She has spent years eking out a living as an administrative assistant in order to be able to afford to pursue her passion, even if only in the margins of her life.  Despite her relative success, she is not a household name; she is not offered million dollar contracts; she still has to scramble to find a publisher for the next book; she still has to deliberately carve out writing time from the rest of her life.  In short, Joan Frank is a literary fiction author who writes because she must, despite the numerous downsides to such a need, drive, compulsion.

Frank not only writes about the ways in which so many writers' actual writing must compete for time with everything else but also about rejection, the loneliness of writing as an occupation, the lack of money available to those lucky enough to see their work through to book form, the lack of effective concrete advice on how to put words worth reading down on paper, the work and disappointment involved in trying to find a publisher or agent, the way literary writers must always play the odds but still most often come up one number short, writing reviews and in turn facing reviews of her own works, and how writers are readers and lovers of books.  She is honest and clear about the disadvantages of being a writer but just by the simple act of writing this book, she is also clear that writers write regardless of the myriad negatives.  Her love for her craft and for books as a whole, even in the midst of struggle or envy or dejection, shines through as well. 

This is not a writing how-to manual nor is it intended to be such.  It is instead a collection of contemplative essays about the reality of Frank's writing and reading life and the way that her particular experiences mirror those of so many other authors out there currently writing.  There is a bit of repetition in some of the essays, even extremely similar wording that brought me up short once or twice, as I read through this in essentially a single sitting, which would not be my recommendation.  The essays would probably have more impact if allowed to settle and be considered one by one, read at a leisurely pace over many days.  As Frank squeaks her writing in around the rest of life, I squeak my reading in and that was a disservice to this particular book.  Those interested in the realities of life as a writer or who must write no matter what will thrill to this honest look at the big sacrifices and small soul-refreshing rewards of a writing life.  And those who think that writing is easy and anyone can write a book, well, they should avoid this book at all costs unless they are ready to shatter the rose-colored glasses and embrace writing with every bit of their being as Frank has done, as real writers must.

For more information about Joan Frank and the book visit her page. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. This sounds like a GREAT read! I'm always so curious about the writing life.

  2. Don't you just love it that your family thinks you could be the next amazing author? Regardless of the likelihood of that happening, it is nice to have that kind of support. :)

    Thanks for being a part of this tour!


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