cover image How to Start Writing (and When to Stop): Advice for Writers

How to Start Writing (and When to Stop): Advice for Writers

Wislawa Szymborska, trans. from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh. New Directions, $17.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2971-5

Nobel Prize–winning poet Szymborska (Sounds, Fury, Thoughts) muses on writing in this delightful collection of literary ephemera. For years, Szymborska (1923–2012) anonymously contributed to a literary advice column in a Polish journal called Literary Life, and her entries are collected here. Translator Cavanagh describes the letters as “the closest look we’re likely to get at the marvelous workshop in which she drafted, revised, discarded, and... preserved the poems that make up her small, but weighty oeuvre”—the thoughts and observations don’t quite hold up to that lofty standard, but there’s plenty of insight to be found in her notes on the importance of revision (which should happen five times, at least), imagination (“crucial to poetry”), and confidence (which she calls “key to writing”). The main joy is Szymborska’s acerbic sense of humor: “In a pinch, a story can make do with no opening or conclusion. The middle, though, is nonnegotiable,” she advises. Szymborska summarizes the advice best herself in an interview that closes the collection—“its didactic value is minimal, it’s mainly entertainment.” While readers won’t walk away with tons of practical advice, they nonetheless won’t regret delving into this memorable volume. (Oct.)