Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir by Gail Godwin

I’ve just finished reading Publishing, Gail Godwin’s memoir about her career as a novelist, and I found it…disappointing. A comment from one of the Amazon reviewers sums up the book very well: “random” and “disconnected.”

Here’s an example: Early in the book Godwin mentioned her marriage to an engineer from England. He was never mentioned again. There was a single sentence about a second, short-lived and “peculiar” marriage. Later in the book she suddenly mentioned her longtime partner “Robert.” I flipped back through the pages to see who “Robert” was and when he’d been introduced. Nothing.

I’m not suggesting that Godwin should have written more about the marriages – the book is about her writing career, not her personal life. But if a writer is going to include personal information, it needs to be coherent.

Here’s another example: Godwin took a writing class with – hold on to your hat – Kurt Vonnegut. He was both helpful and nice, I’m happy to say. I enjoyed reading what Vonnegut had to say to Godwin during their conferences. But her book says nothing about what he talked about in his lectures. Those are jewels that beginning writers would love to read.

And I would love to have heard more about the partnership with her editors. For example, it would be fascinating to read a passage from a novel that benefited from editing. What did the editor say, how did Godwin react, and how did it all work out? What are the similarities and differences between editors she worked with?

If I’d had a chance to review Publishing before it went into print, I’d have asked Godwin to go back and fill in more about what happened while she was writing those novels. And I’m realizing that I need to do more of that kind of writing myself. What goes on inside our heads while we’re writing? How does it feel? How do we dig ourselves out when we get stuck?

There’s so much we can teach one another if we’re willing to  invest the time and be honest about the process.

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