It is for both those who write and those who want to that Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott have published Seven Steps On the Writer’s Path: The Journey From Frustration to Fulfillment . With this book, Pickard, a successful mystery writer, and Lott, a therapist and co-author of several parenting books, sidestep the usual “how-to” premise. Instead, they tell us there is a writing path that we’re probably already walking and then help us examine the stages of this path and discover for ourselves both where we are and where we need to go.
As the title indicates, Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path is set up in the popular “step” format, like Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Successful People or Dr. Phil’s rule in Life Strategies. In this book, the order of steps is important. The authors’ thesis is that each writer inevitably hits each step on this journey and that furthermore, each step is important and should be dealt with head-on.
The book proceeds to explain each step- from #1 “Unhappiness” to #7, “Fulfillment”. Each step gets its own chapter filled with definition, psychology, anecdote and interview answers from other writers, some of them fairly well known. Overall, the steps make sense, common as well as creative. This isn’t rocket science, and the authors don’t claim otherwise. Most writers will find the Seven Steps On the Writer’s Path “relatable” and will probably see themselves in at least a few of the scenarios described in the book.
First, for example, there’s “Unhappiness” – that stage where you’re bursting at the seams for lack of something you can’t quite name. That something turns out to be whatever it is you write next to break out of the Unhappiness stage. Step # is “Wanting” where you have to acknowledge and figure out the specifics of your desire to write. #3 is “Commitment” where you say you’re going to write come heck or high water and meant it. Then, however, whoops, you hit step #4, “Wavering” where your fears and insecurities tempt you to give up on that previously made commitment. You get past this with Step #5, “Letting Go” where you say “fuggedaboutit” to the things that once held you back. This leads directly to Step #6 “Immersion” where you forget to do things like eat or sleep because you’re totally into your writing. All this culminates with Step #7 “Fulfillment” the writer’s Nirvana, at which point you have done the thing you’ve wanted to do and can be happy. The only problem is, if you’re a writer, Step #1 is right around the corner, no pun intended. And soon, you’re off on the path again.
Lott and Pickard smartly avoid generalities; besides asserting that these steps exist, they offer no hard or fast rules on how to deal with each step. They do not pretend writing is an exact science. Instead, they recognize people react differently to the different obstacles and challenges of writing. Some people say “Immersion” for example is a natural high, while others just find it fun. Some get through “Unhappiness” talking to another writer, while others paint or pursue something else creative. Lott and Pickard encourage each writer to spend time considering for him or herself where they are on the journey and how to best move forward. If anything, Seven Steps On The Writer’s Path is a book about self-examination.
And that’s what gives Seven Steps a unique place among writing books. This one gets inside your head, and not in some way that involves Writing 101 exercises or taking a Tibetan retreat. You read it, you understand yourself a little better. You write a little better. Tone as well as content produces this result: while the authors can be a little folksy the manage to write a serious book without taking themselves too seriously. There’s not a word of condescension in the whole of the book. It’s writer-to-writer advice. It’s not totally different from Stephen King’s On Writing in tone: down to earth, realistic, encouraging.
There are some weakness in Seven Steps On The Writer’s Path. One is a weakness found in a lot of “how-to’ writing books: they take a simple idea and stretch it too much in order to make it a whole chapter. It may not include lame writing exercises, but the book does include some “what to do while you wait” exercises that aren’t much better and play like filler. Another chapter contains a bizarre anecdote about an experiment Pickard tried to see if she were a ‘real’ writer or not. It goes on too long to be useful or interesting. And other things seem told out of order or not soon enough. For example, if , as Step #6 says, we should have a writing buddy, why don’t we learn that sooner? We’re almost to the end of the path now, and we haven’t had a buddy!
But the biggest weakness, well, outside the filler, is that Litt & Pickard get caught up in semantics. “Resolve” is a sub-step of “Immersion” and for some reason not the same as “Commitment”. This makes you wonder, “So, is Commitment is really just a bunch of talk. “Waiting” to refuel during “Immersion” is okay, but when you stall out in earlier steps, they call it Unhappiness and tell you to actively move through it. You’re supposed to recognize “lack of information” as a bad thing in the “Wavering” step, but then when you get to “Immersion” you’re meant to “embrace incompetence.” Apparently, once you get to Immersion, you don’t really get stuck again. Any writer will tell you that’s not the way it works. This isn’t to say the entire book is confusing, and perhaps some of these semantics are a function of the fact that, again, some of these ideas are stretched longer than they need to be.
Seven Steps on The Writer’s Path is not about rushing to the destination of publication; it’s about understanding and enjoying the journey. It’s a guidebook and does what every good guidebook should: it gives you the map, points out the highlights and pitfalls and warns that sometimes there’s no path besides the one that you beat down yourself. Whether you’ve taken the writer’s journey before or are stepping onto the path for the first time, you’d do well to take Lott & Pickard along for consultation. On the weird and winding road of the writer, a good guide can come in handy from time to time.