The Making of a Writer: Journals, 1961-1963 by Gail Godwin
Bestselling author Gail Godwin, a three-time National Book Award
nominee, keeps a journal that her friend Joyce Carol Oates
suggested she edit and share with readers. In this first
installment, we eavesdrop on Godwin's life as she emerges as a
writer during her travels to Europe as a young woman.
The journals open as Godwin is waitressing at a resort in North
Carolina, saving money for her grand excursion. She is soon on a
ship headed to Denmark --- and adventure. Humorous character
sketches of her fellow passengers draw the reader in as we follow
her to her destination.
Godwin struggles with self-doubt as a writer and her relationship
with the man she loves in Denmark, as well as her perennial lack of
money. She considers going home, but when she's offered a job in
London, she takes it. First, though, she visits the Canary Islands
for a blissful month. Afterward, she is torn between staying with a
local love and going on to London. When she finally decides, her
leave-taking is wrenching.
In London, her roller-coaster writer's life continues with the
highs of doing good work and completing projects in which she takes
pride. The lows are rejections and periods of writing inertia. She
similarly experiences a roller-coaster relationship with
38-year-old never-married, "probably hopeless" James. She connects
with other men and travels back to North Carolina to meet up with
an old lover.
Back in London, Godwin struggles with co-workers, office politics,
changing apartments, and writing or not writing. She yearns for a
true relationship with a man, all the while despising herself for
caring so much. At the same time, she celebrates her freedom.
Godwin constantly thinks about her writing. Even as she battles
self-doubt she concocts rules to write by, such as: Don't be false.
Trust in the story. Eliminate the dull parts. Forget second-best
plots. Don't anticipate the reader's reaction. Start somewhere,
anywhere. Let the ending be found in the beginning.
The reader of THE MAKING OF A WRITER is privileged to watch as
Godwin composes a story, talking herself through each part and
using her life experiences --- a fascinating process. She also
includes advice on keeping a journal and the reflection that her
journal entries seed writing that may come decades later. The book
is also liberally peppered with footnotes; at the outset I found
these distracting but soon came to relish them.
I've been a Gail Godwin fan for decades. After reading her journal,
I feel that I now know her as a struggling author and as a person
of moods and vulnerabilities. I constantly looked forward to my
time reading it and discovering more about the author. It is
particularly fascinating to read Godwin's latest novel, QUEEN OF
THE UNDERWORLD, which was partially based on the author's
experience as a young reporter in Miami, in order to discover
echoes between the two books: a suicide, waitressing jobs,
significant names, and more. An excellent read; highly
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 7, 2011