TEXT review  


The Writer's Guide: A companion to writing for pleasure or publication



review by Donna Lee Brien




The Writer's Guide: A Companion to Writing for Pleasure or Publication
Irina Dunn
2nd edition. Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2000. (First published 1999)
ISBN 1 86508 832 3
387pp A$26.95


Irina Dunn states that she wishes to offer the new edition of The Writer's Guide as "a practical guide to developing your writing skills", and I found the wealth of practical advice and information therein nothing if not encyclopaedic. In making this judgement, I tried to think up topic areas that were not included and just could not do so. I did believe I had found omissions in certain of the book's listings, and thought to posit this as a function of the fact that with the broad range of areas the book covers, this substantial text (of almost 400 pages) could offer only necessarily brief information on each of its many sub- and sub-sub-headings. A quick count reveals approximately two hundred separate topics, many of these generally relevant to writers of all kinds in all places, but with a special focus on writers in Australia and New Zealand. Perhaps we could all, I was going to suggest, in the most collegial way, send Dunn any omissions we note for her third edition? TEXT, as an example, was mentioned, whereas dotlit, the online journal I edit with Philip Neilsen, was not. Then I read on to another section (Magazines and Journals instead of the Websites area I was looking in) and found dotlit listed there. I now can't think of anything to send Dunn collegially, except for my congratulations.

Executive Director of the NSW Writers' Centre since 1992, Dunn has extensive experience with the needs of writers: aspiring, emerging and established. With this knowledge in mind, she has divided her guide into major sections which follow, logically, the process of moving through the stages of producing and publishing a manuscript. From "Getting started", "Kinds of writing" and "Getting down to writing" to "Getting published", "Promoting your book" and "Writing as a career, or 'Don't give up your day job'", these sections offer considered and sensible advice from the initial considerations of what to write - decisions as basic as deciding whether a text be fiction or non-fiction - and who to write for; to dealing with royalties, the Public Lending Right scheme and any tax deductions you may be able to claim after such payments. The final, and largest, section of the book is titled "Resources" and is organised into such areas as lists of agents, manuscript assessors, publishers and major festivals and events, as well as such specific information as the various industry-recommended rates writers can demand for their work.

This second edition incorporates new material dealing with recent developments in the digital world as it affects writers and readers, including much new and useful information on electronic publishing, publications and available computing software. There is also an enhanced section on Australian short film festivals as, in Dunn's words, "they considerably expand the opportunities for new screenwriters". All the excellent material from the first edition seems to be retained, with a significant updating of the myriad of details which go out of date as soon as you print them.

The book is easy to use, with clearly titled topic areas, sidebar icons pointing readers to where else in the book they can find other information on the area under discussion and a good index. It is also pleasing to read, and I particularly enjoyed the numerous boxed quotes from writers - from the famous, the infamous and those less generally well known - additions which not only add opinionated content to the topic under discussion, but also dollops of charm, humanity and humour. These quotes are all referenced, and I can only dream of the time to go and find, let alone read, all the articles they are extracted from. Dunn writes "you must become a voracious reader" (68) to be a good writer - the latter the mantra we chant through our creative writing courses at QUT - and to this end, there is a long listing of useful books and other publications in the resources section.

Although I know I will use this book, as I frequently used the first edition, what especially touched me as a reader, writer and teacher of writing is Dunn's continuing passionate belief in reading and writing as valuable human activities. "No other human activity can leap the barriers of time and space as writing and reading can to bring you into contact with other cultures and other worlds", (xiii) she writes. Who could disagree?


Notes and Debate
Jeri Kroll and Steve Evans How to Write a 'How to Write' Book



Donna Lee Brien is Course Coordinator of Creative Writing and Cultural Studies and a Lecturer in Creative Writing at QUT in Brisbane. Her teaching and research interests include creative nonfiction and electronic writing. Donna edits dotlit: The Online Journal of Creative Writing http://www.dotlit.qut.edu.au with Philip Neilsen and her first self-help book, co-authored with Tess Brady, The Girls Guide to Real Estate, was published by Allen & Unwin in September 2002.


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Vol 6 No 2 October 2002
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady