Jenny Alexander’s first book about the creative life and writing was Writing In The House of Dreams, and you’ll find an interesting analysis of that title here, on Susan Price's Nennius Blog. First of all, before we begin, I am a real fan of books that are a pleasure to hold and read. Both Jenny Alexander’s books have beautiful covers, as well spaced text and font and a visual appeal that gives you confidence in the contents. To my mind, this attention shows that the author cares as much (or more) about the experience of her readers as about the matter of “getting the book buzzing out there”: a reflection, I believe, of Jenny’s own writing values.
Jenny's second book - almost a companion title - has a rather different focus: “When A Writer Isn’t Writing” makes clear its intentions in the strapline: How to Beat Your Blocks, Be Published and Find Your Flow.
This small volume offers an unusual and personal approach. While there are many books offering weighty information on the craft of writing or the production of blockbusters and “brands”, this book focuses on the inner processes of writing and the problems that arise when the writer and their writing practice aren't quite in balance. In addition, throughout the book, Jenny offers a range of helpful writing or practical activities from her popular creative writing workshops and courses.
Jenny writes in such an easy, friendly and re-assuring style that it’s tempting, if you are a galumphing reader like me, to speed through the pages. I’d advise reading this book with a pencil in hand, underlining sentences that resonate, and suggestions that require deeper pondering. My personal copy now has several such passages. Jenny's chapters and advice are reinforced by the thoughts of established writers such as Linda Newbery, Adele Geras, Michelle Lovric and more.
The book has a straightforward structure: the first four chapters cover topics such as When You Can’t Get Started, When You Can’t Keep Going and When You Get Completely Stuck. Jenny addresses these topics in a sympathetic, instructive and thoughtful way. She suggests ways of developing confidence through regular writing practice, examines the different fears that hold back the blocked writer and considers the relationships between writing goals and personal values.
Jenny Alexander is a great advocate of patience with the ebbs and flows of one’s writing energies - the seasons of inspiration, productivity and also the fallow time. As she explains, “Creativity is a natural process, a breathing in and out, a rhythm of receptive and productive time, of surrender and control.”
The next three chapters look at insistent insecurities about the work itself, the blocks that sometimes halt work while it's in progress: When you’re Putting Off Redrafting stresses the need to be patient with the process and pattern of writing; When You’re Tempted to Skip Micro-Editing encourages the reader to pay the right level of attention to their detail of their work – i.e. don’t skip! - while When You’re Pondering Publication is a firm, level-headed section on the current state of publishing, including the pitfalls and the benefits of independent publishing.
The final section - When you Find Your Flow – looks at the balance between the personal and the craft, and at what is required to work resiliently as a writer. I feel this book may be especially useful to anyone unable to find a local writer’s group or attend a creative writing course, as there are suggestions of websites, blogs and useful books for writers.
The book is based on Jenny’s own extensive studies in psychology . psychotherapy and creative work, and as she says “Writing isn’t just about words on the page – it’s a different way of being. It changes your experience of the world and it deepens your experience of yourself.” If you can relate to those words, and you're in difficulties, When A Writer Isn’t Writing may be for you.
Jenny Alexander's blog can be found here.
Reviewer: Penny Dolan
Return to REVIEWS HOMEPAGE