Edited by Robert Meyhew
A Plume Book, New York 2001
I knew the slim 182 page book would be weighty and I was right. The photo on the front cover shows Rand, with her arms folded, in front of a city landscape, and squinting into the sun in a stare-down. A fair reflection of her approach to writing, the photo shows a determined, focused and laser intelligence.
At the end I felt proud of having made it through a sober and intense reading lesson of gathering ideas, deciding on a plan, outlining, writing and rewriting. If you are ready in your writing to seriously confront the flaws of your thinking, or defend them against a paragon of argument and reason, this book is a match. Compare your strength to this advice. “Sometimes an author becomes too abstract because he has not quite decided what details he will use to illustrate something, and so he begins to assert the arbitrary.” It is a rare author who would recognize a personal fall into asserting the arbitrary.
It sometimes felt weighted down by the use of ideas that required words like absolute, relativism, contextual, epistemology and her personal philosophy of objectivism. I’m a generation more accustomed to the friendly, breezy, sisterly advice of Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird and Janet Evanovich’s easily absorbed, open-formatted How I Write. Yet, maybe because she is older, Rand came across as the older, crabbier sister who only later turns out to be a best friend. Because of her prickly exterior, it was a surprise to review the notes I kept while reading Rand’s book, to discover she has her cuddly moments.
On the first page is, “If you have difficulty with writing, do not conclude that there is something wrong with you.” Or “Trust your subconscious by writing as if everything that comes out of it is right.” And more cuddly is, “But while you are writing, you must be God’s perfect creature (if there were a God).” I think that’s downright sweet for an Ayn Rand quote.
She gives strong advice to writers that involves deep thinking, liberal editing, showing versus telling, and grammar. Clarity and the necessity of every scene are among her mantras, which is surprising considering the length of her books.
She seems almost easy to have lunch with (and I wish I could) during her description of finally settling on the titles for The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Rand is not a fuzzy-wuzzy person and her politics sometimes got in the way (like so many of us she just never got over that childhood of hers), but I learned from her. I admire the way she thinks on an individual, personal level, though we don’t always come to the same political conclusion. Now that I’ve read more of of her I doubt she’d mind as long as I could state why I thought a certain way and could grammatically defend it.