Elizabeth Berg, known for her sensitively written novels about the complicated and delicate relationships of women, has written a primer for both the aspiring and experienced writer. A source of inspiration as well as a book filled with practical advice and creative exercises, Escaping into the Open feels as though a wise and witty friend is sharing her secrets while offering inspiration and encouragement. Berg takes the budding writer's hand at the start of a new and sometimes scary journey. The act of writing is deeply personal, and for those seeking publication it can be a public display of inner thoughts and impulses. Berg understands this and provides a sanctuary where the process is laid bare, and the reader is invited to look at the world with a writer's eye. Berg encourages readers to take risks and discover their unique voice through the written word. Her title is borrowed from a phrase by E.B. White: "All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation-it is the Self escaping into the open." This sense of freedom through expression is extremely important to Berg and, as she notes in her introduction, the reason for the book. This is the antithesis of a "dummy's guide". This is a personal memoir and a gentle instruction book.
Berg's philosophy is an important part of her book but she also includes a plethora of creative exercises to spark ideas and develop the creativity necessary to write fiction. The chapter entitled, "If you're a man, be a woman" has over 25 pages of exercises in it for example. There are many other exercises scattered throughout the book, as well as a "homework" assignment in each chapter. Along with these valuable exercises, a liberal amount of attention is given to matters of the heart. Making a safe space where one is free to dream and break the rules and listen without speaking are all equally important to Berg. She suggests buying a journal that can be locked away for a "little rich secrecy". And speaks to the need to create believable characters and plots by showing rather than telling about the emotional state of a character, tapping into the rich details that our senses can provide if we pay attention.
Berg also includes some surprisingly simple advice and gives attention to the minutiae that make up a writer's life as well. The reader/writer can find topics on setting up a personal writer's space, time management when working from the home, where to write, and what to write with and on. All of these suggestions are food for thought in creating a new life, one in which writing is an essential part of the day. How DO you manage the day when vacuuming the floor, reading that pile of magazines or going for a walk sounds so much more inviting than sitting down to the blank screen of a computer? Or conversely, how do you find the time to write if you're working 40 hours a week and have a family? These are real concerns as very few people have the luxury of quitting their day jobs to focus on a dream.
As a published author, Berg's advice about the business side of writing is worth paying attention to. She shares ideas for reaching out to editors, how long to wait for a response, dealing with the inevitable rejections as well as bookkeeping ideas and manuscript tracking. She also includes firsthand advice from those in the know, including agents, publishers and editorial assistants.
And if all of this information is still not enough, Berg includes recipes for those times when a fat-free salad just won't do. A recipe for a rich chocolate cake is not something you normally encounter in a how-to book, but certainly illustrates the author's talent for tapping into the female psyche. Perhaps she just wanted to give the reader a little sustenance before sending them on their way.