This is a book review for Literary Agent Paula Munier’s book Writing With Quiet Hands.
When I first decided to purchase this book, I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be a motivational tool for writers or a writing tool in general. After reading, it’s pretty clear it’s meant to be both. I was both heavily inspired to write, as well as feel that I have been given a comprehensive tool for the writing and publishing process by someone who knows. And I don’t just mean as a literary agent, but by Paula who shares her personal experiences both in life and in her evolving career, each stage giving a new insight to the world of publishable writing. It’s amazing to see this 360 view, and I feel like I have a better grasp of what’s expected of an author, as well as how to take measures to improve myself as a writer.
I’ll start with what got me to buy this book in the first place, and that would be Jane Friedman’s blog post about “Narrative Thrust,” a key element Paula elaborates on in Writing With Quiet Hands. It makes so much logical sense that I marveled how this point wasn’t talked about more by other writing tip articles, and wondered what other gems Paula would share with me that I just had never been made aware of in clear and concise terms.
I wasn’t disappointed. There were a multitude of gems outlined in this book, as well as a number of excessively helpful exercises to perform on my work in progress as a revision tool. When I started reading, I folded pages of such bits of advice and exercises I found useful, but now I’m left with a book with half of the pages folded. I’ll share a few with you brief points with you, though I recommend reading the book yourself to understand their nuances, as well as the other points Paula brings up.
“A great idea gets you read. A great idea well executed gets you published.”
“[Agents] don’t want to fix your ‘nearly there’ story; they want to publish your ‘ready to rock the reader’s world’ story.”
Paula goes into a discussion of art form, be it playing a musical instrument or painting a mural, one does not become a master overnight. For some reason, people seem to think you can approach writing with base talent, when it’s just an acquired skill like any other. You undoubtably need the base talent to get started, but you must groom that talent with hours, days, weeks, and years of dedication to your craft.
Up until page 46, this book builds you up and holds your hand, gently guiding you to understanding what it takes to be a writer. But at page 46, Paula comes to the understanding that if you made it this far in her book, you’re in it for the long haul. This is when she “brings out the ruler” like a schoolmaster, ready to thwack us for stepping out of line as she pulls out the worksheets and practice exams. Personally I loved this, because she built me up with encouragement and stories of her own life that drew me in, and I was ready to be taken seriously in my effort to improve as a writer.
There are many excellent exercises this book recommends, but by far my favorite is the color-coding “balance” test. The exercise is to print out your manuscript and highlight sentences based on their function (description/backstory/etc). The ideal result is a rainbow of interwoven colors, not a cluster or sections with colors missing. I’m a visual person and I tried this exercise on my first chapter. The result was extraordinary. It would have taken me thrice as long to get the kind of revision I would have gotten haphazardly by beta feedback without this exercise.
I’d like to end this review reflecting on the awesome motivational pull this book had throughout, even after page 46 when things got serious. Several times I had to put the book down because I was struck with an intense desire to write. Whatever emotion was invoked, there’s a muse in my room who loved Paula’s words. And I’ll keep coming back, because this is a writing tool I’ll keep using long into my writing journey.