Resonance: Essays on the Craft and Life of Writing, edited by Andrew Chesham and Laura Farina

There is no shortage of books offering advice on generating ideas, silencing your inner critic, refining finished works, and other writing-related matters. But Resonance: Essays on the Craft and Life of Writing has something new to add to the conversation. Resonance offers personal takes and perspectives, served up in bite-sized chunks and accompanied in most cases by “try this” exercises.

Writers of all stripes, whether they pen memoir, fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, will find some chapters geared to their preferred mode, and others that address more generally the craft of writing. The editors organized the collection in a way that “roughly mirrored the writing process” (p. 12), starting with idea generation, then writing and revising, and finally, publishing.

“The essays are, for the most part, written in a down-to-earth, approachable style. Authors share “here’s what worked for me” or “here’s what I learned,” and there is an air of general helpfulness to the book.”

The majority of the essays are between four and six pages. This enabled the editors to include a number of pieces, 43 in all, thus ensuring that pretty much anyone should be able to find something of value between the pages. The relatively short length of each entry forces a tight focus, and makes the material easier for the reader to absorb.

The essays are, for the most part, written in a down-to-earth, approachable style. Authors share “here’s what worked for me” or “here’s what I learned,” and there is an air of general helpfulness to the book. Many of the writers dig deep, providing personal insights, which makes the advice and suggestions resonate more deeply. For example, in “Memoir in the Eye of the Storm,” Joseph Kakwinokanasum, a “card-holding member of the James Smith Cree Nation” (p. 57), recalls how he had to overcome self-esteem issues in order to write, including his mother telling him that there was “no such thing as an Indian writer.” (p. 57) “To this day a critic sits on my shoulder gorging on my self-esteem, washing it down with my spirit,” Kakwinokanasum notes. “As an Indigenous writer, I have learned to work away from that voice until I can’t hear it.” (p. 59)

Many of the writers offer a new take on an existing approach. Andrew Chesham, in “Write About Something Else: Purging Negative Thoughts” talks about how John Steinbeck, while writing the first draft of East of Eden, used a double-entry journal, “manuscript on the right-hand page and work diary on the left.” (p. 35) Chesham then explains how the double-entry journal can be used to get rid of negative thoughts before writing.

“Write Your Grain of Sand” by Peter Babiak provides advice to help writers “take a deep dive into the nature of the smallest details.” (p. 61)  Laura Farina, in “Ghosts in Elevators: How to Edit a Poem,” makes suggestions on the revision process. “The Draft in the Drawer” by Brian Payton gives guidance on when to rejuvenate and when to abandon that piece that’s been lying dormant for awhile.

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The importance of telling your own story, particularly in the case of writers belonging to marginalized groups, is echoed in a number of the works. In “The Stories We Tell” Brian Lam states that when he looks at his early fiction “I realize that none of my stories featured characters who looked like me: a queer Asian man . . . despite the adage of writing about what you know, perhaps my own lack of self-confidence made me believe that no one would be interested in stories about people who looked like me.” (p. 234) “Dangerous Territories: On Writing and Risk” by Leanne Dunic makes a similar point.

Like many writers, I sometimes fret when I spend time doing non-writing things. But Christina Myers, in “In Praise of Daydreams and Laundry,” urges writers to assign value to, and appreciate, non-writing activities such as reading, taking a long walk, or relaxing in a hammock. Now that’s advice I can get behind!

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a number of books about writing. Some I dive back into again and again, while others languish on the shelves. I get the sense that Resonance: Essays on the Craft and Life of Writing will prove to be the former.


Andrew Chesham is the director of the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. He has worked in the literary arts since 2006, as a writer, editor, publisher, and educator in Canada and Australia. He has also edited the anthologies: From the Earth to the Table, and Stories for a Long Summer (Catchfire Press).

Laura Farina is the author of two collections of poetry and a picture book. She has facilitated writing workshops in schools and community settings across Canada and the United States. She is currently the coordinator of the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. 

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Anvil Press (March 14 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1772141844
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1772141849

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