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Reviews: Books about Writing
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       the concept is to give insights into an author's style, craft, and knowledge through selected excerpts.) 
 Human Options 
Norman Cousins
New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1994
* * *

The Power of the Persuasive Pen;
How You As A Writer Can Make A Difference

By pen or computer, you can be a creator of options enabling people to discover new truths and new possibilities within themselves, and to fashion new connections to the human experience.

The language you use is not just an instrument but an environment. It is a vital part of the philosophical and political conditioning of a society. Attitudes are tied to the power of words to ennoble or condemn, augment or detract, glorify or demean. Negative language infects the human subconscious. Prejudice and violence is metabolized in the blood stream of society.

Effective writing depends on a clear understanding of one's purpose. That purpose should be clearly identified. It should not be cluttered with extensive comment or side excursions. It should be developed point by point, with the rigorous attention to sequence and gradations of a professional bead-stringer at work.

There is a great need for writers who can restore to writing its powerful tradition of leadership in crisis. Many difficult tests in human history have produced courageous writers who accepted a special responsi- bility to their times. They defined the issues, recognized the values at stake, and dramatized the nature of the challenge. The central issue facing the world today is not the state of this nation or that nation but the condition of man. That higher level today needs its champions as it never did before. There is no more essential and nobler task for writers—established writers, new writers, aspiring writers—than to regard themselves as spokesmen for human destiny.

The writer's art is measured by the ability to transcend personal memory. Memory is the proof of life. Nothing really happens to a person unless it is fastened in memory. Some people pass through life in a state of total antisepsis. They have not touched life nor have they been touched by it. The artist-writer refines the ability of an individual to have contact with life, to be at one with others, to make their memories his own. In this sense, the writer widens the path to the subconscious.

You, as a writer, have access to the human subconscious. If you have mastered your art, your words will sink deep, shaping dreams, easing the pain of loneliness, nourishing anticipations, as well as entertaining and teaching.

The Moment of Triumph and the Self-Tyranny of Purpose

For the writer, the moment of triumph is the moment of conception. This is when the idea is born, when there is a sudden glorious clicking of the vitals of the writer, when the creative wells are full and demand- ing release. It is also a moment of commitment. The writer knows the idea will possess him and hover over him, until he puts down the words that will set him free again.

The Creative Process Depends Least of all Upon Accident

[The creative process] requires that the mind be properly worked and tended, that it be given the blessing of silence and the gift of sequence Whether the "Moment of Triumph" produces a spark or a thunderbolt, it is certain to have lasting effects. It can generate the carrying power to sustain a writer through a thousand nights of torment at the writing desk.

The Castigation of Characters Who Are Not Worth Knowing

The trouble with some contemporary novels is that they are full of people not worth knowing. The characters slide in and out of the mind with hardly a ripple. 

The failure of some novelists to create real people can often be related to their failure to deal with the inner man. One suspects some writers would rather be found dead than caught in the act of shedding an honest tear. Explore the insides of your characters. Give readers a book with people they care about and they will queue up to shake your hand.

The Creative Mind in Jeopardy Needs Nourishment

In our time, the creative mind is in jeopardy from half-formed ideas. The age seems to favor interrup- tion and the staccato burst. But the writer of stature will find the eye of the hurricane. In that stillness, he will know his "Moment of Triumph" and will create the words to help make us bigger than we are.

—reviewed by  Kitty Baker
(used by permission)