How to Write, Venus Edition

Strange, then, to turn from Mosely to Danell Jones’ The Virginia Woolf Writer’s Workshop. Where all of his examples seem to lead a person to genre fiction replete with dark psychological motivations and violence (one long chapter discusses a hypothetical Mad Max-style road/vengeance father-son plot), Jones mines a more encouraging, feminine, and thoroughly Woolfian vein.

A long while back, I got a random email from her: she had this idea to cull all Woolf’s advice about writing from her books--novels, essays, diaries, and letters--into one place and write a kind of writer’s guide in the voice of Virginia Woolf. Bored and curious more than hopeful, I agreed to give it a look. Most academics won’t stick their necks out for stuff like this, but I love it, find it fun, and don’t mind venturing my opinion where my knowledge might be thin. (What, after all do I know about novel-writing?)

The manuscript was really rough but promising. I sent her my comments. She, by return of post, sent me a really beautiful scarf! That was unexpected.

The book is so much improved and it is now really, really lovely--welcoming. I read it in proofs and now the finished copy is here. It’s very pretty, which is nice. But she really pulled it off: she makes it possible to imagine the delightful, absurd but not so absurd possibility that you’re taking a writing workshop from Woolf. She’s woven together dozens and dozens of quotations from across all of Woolf’s work seamlessly and effectively (and, they’re all indexed in the back). Here’s how the book begins:
What, she writes on the board, are the conditions necessary to produce a work of art?
Up shoots the hand of a young woman in an Ani DiFranco T-shirt. “A room of her own and five hundred a year?”
True, she says, amazed how the words she wrote all those years ago seem to have sprouted wings…”
With chapters on Practicing, Working, Creating, Walking, Reading, Publishing, and Doubting, Jones captures the key topics that Woolf meditated on in her comments on writing. And, of course, these are topics of great interest to us all.

There’s another new light book on Woolf out this month, too, though I haven’t seen it yet, I’m eager to get my hands on Ilana Simons’ A Life of One’s Own: A Guide to Better Living Through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf. Maybe this will be this year’s How Proust Can Change Your Life. As tiresome and irritating as I now find Alain deBotton, that was, I thought, a genuinely amusing and good book.