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Take Joy: a book for writers    by Jane Yolen order for
Take Joy
by Jane Yolen
Order:  USA  Can
The Writer Books, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Take Joy, Jane Yolen, one of my favorite fantasy writers, takes issue with the conventional wisdom that writers have to sweat blood to put their words on paper. She gives us eleven inspiring essays, that sparkle with confidence and creative energy, on the joys of writing. Each is introduced by an apt quotation and they are interspersed with interludes that whisper witty, wily, distilled wisdom (I especially enjoyed the 'Butt in Chair' one).

In the title essay, this acclaimed author contends that 'it is not the writing that makes writers miserable. It is the emphasis on publication'. She compares the writing process to flying at treetop level until the story rises up to meet you, and recommends taking joy in the experience. In The Mystery That Is Writing, the Japanese word saku-taku-no-ki is used to explain the birth of a story in terms of a mother hen pecking at an egg, on which the chick within is also tapping ... until 'New life emerges.'

Advice tells aspiring writers to be like Loki and make writing an act of mischief, while recommending that veteran writers avoid being facile. Building the House compares writing to that process, starting from the preparation of a basement. In Poetry, the author advocates for the difference and value of poetry-ness, quoting from several bards (a few not previously known to me), and explaining in verse What Is A Poem? (The answer centers on 'Hard work.')

Many Voices takes a story idea, 'The Barbarian Has Tea with the Queen' and develops it in many different voices: Bardic, Schoolboy, Josephus, Boogerman, Dark Angel, Midtown Mab, David Broder and Hemingway. It's an entertaining education. Beginnings and Endings calls the opening line 'the DNA of fiction', and advises that the ending should be 'both inevitable and surprising', 'a long sigh of recognition'.

The Mind of the Matter gives useful perspectives on point of view - Omniscient, First Person, Limited Omniscient, Objective - and Killing the King advises regarding plotting that there should be 'Always something going on', and that if elves move into your plot, it's a mistake not to hear them out. Out with Outlines tells us that story is organic, and The Alphabetics of Story provides tidbits under titles from Architecture to Zero. The latter warns us to have zero expectations and 'Write the damn story. Nothing else matters.'

If you write yourself, avoid blotting blood off your manuscript pages by reading this first. And if you know an aspiring author, this little book makes the perfect gift.

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