by Robyn Stafford
As a writer I crave knowledge to understand ways to become not ‘just’ a writer, but an excellent writer who has confidence in my work. Having struggled with learning challenges due to a head injury, I have come to know my weaknesses and take joy in my strengths. My desire is to strengthen my weaknesses by learning and developing these skills. Needless to say, my bookshelves are inundated with numerous ‘how-to’ books on writing. While the desire has been there, my busy life has been a distraction from being able to focus on developing these talents. Oddly as it may seem, in time, life also has a way of helping put things back into perspective; and this happened for me when reading the book, The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman.
All the great ‘how-to’ books about writing say that in order to gain the attention of a publisher it is imperative to have a great ‘hook’ in the first lines of your query letter. They look for this before they read any further or show any interest in seeing your manuscript. Well, this book had a great hook in the first lines of the Introduction. Lukeman states, “Most people are against books on writing on principle. So am I. It’s ridiculous to set down rules when it comes to art. Most of the truly great artists have broken all the rules, and this is what has made them great…” When I first picked this book up off the shelf at Barnes and Noble this is what drew me in. Being an artist myself, I understand the need for certain rules; but there is also a great need to allow the creative flow to take on a life of its own and simply just let it happen. This may be why the grammatical aspects of writing may seem simple to some, but often baffles others, like me. So I pick up books like this to help me learn how to balance the rules and still allow the creative flow to take flight.
One of the first lessons I learned while reading this book is that it is not a one-time read. There are so many helpful concepts to take into consideration and retain (one of my weaknesses). I will have to refer to this book often to gain that retention- which could be the best thing about it. It is a learning tool that I’ll be able to use again and again.
As a learning tool The First Five Pages sets up a plan to assist in preparation for publication. This book is divided up into three parts: 1-Prelimanary Problems, 2-Dialogue, and 3-The Bigger Picture. While it is named The First Five Pages, each section covers numerous sub-topics from Presentation to the Epilogue. A process that takes you thru a step-by-step endeavor that can carry you into the completion of a masterpiece ready for publication.
At the beginning of each chapter the stage is set with vignettes of moments from the life and times…or at least part of the life of various writers such as Steven King and John Grisham, quirks and rejections survived by famous writers, famous quotes, etc.; all inspirational pointers that even the best of the best have had their moments of rejections that eventually lead to their success…which eventually led to their opportunity to share of these humble beginnings- and lessons learned- with the rest of us hopefuls. It is from these real-life experiences from others that I draw in a refreshing breath of inspiration. Rejections aren’t necessarily a bad thing. As long as I’m getting them I know I’m being productive in getting my works out there. And since my focus is on children’s books, I’m quite inspired in knowing it took around twenty-eight rejections before Dr. Seuss was ever published. I’m one seventh of the way there!
While I jest about the sub-titles and what each chapter reveals in this book, I have to say my favorite part of The First Five Pages is that each chapter goes beyond telling you what you should be recognizing as problems in your writing to giving you solutions to overcoming these problem areas, like actually putting things into practice thru hands-on exercises. Of course, due to time and homework priorities; when reading through this book for the first time, I didn’t take the time to do all of these exercises. This is what makes The First Five Pages a great experience for me; it continues to teach and instruct while allowing me growing room. I look forward to taking on these exercises in the near future.
While this book is indeed ‘a writer’s guide to help keep us out of the rejection piles; I feel it is also the type of book that lifts us off the proverbial sofa of writer’s block and motivates the fingers to touch the keyboard, open ourselves up to possibilities, and allow creativity to do its thing -with a bit of constructive instructional direction, of course.