A good book on writing is like a friend for life: each time you rejoin the conversation, you appreciate anew the wisdom and companionship the words have to offer. So it is with books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, or Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer. Each of these books provides enduring advice, inspiration and insight. Like these classics, Kate Hopper’s Use Your Words: A Writing Guide For Mothers is destined to become a writer’s new best friend, for all these reasons and more.
Use Your Words is directly addressed to writers who hope to tell their motherhood stories in ways that are resonant and meaningful. Hopper herself is aware that writing about motherhood may be, as she says, “an uphill battle to get it taken seriously,” one she has struggled against. In her own writing life, Hopper faced down that struggle by continuing to write herself and by encouraging her own writing students – often mothers – to craft these stories themselves. What emerged from those sessions with her mother-writer-students is this book on craft. As Hopper writes:
I hope this book will give you the courage to get your mother stories down on paper. How often have you said, “Use your words!” to your children? How often have you heard other parents utter that phrase? Now it’s your turn. I designed this book to help guide you on your journey as a mother writer and help you find the most effective way to tell the stories you need to tell.
Hopper divides her book into fourteen useful sections on craft, inspiration, genre and process. Each section includes a satisfying balance of explanation, example and exercise. Hopper’s instructions on craft are personal, approachable and effective, no doubt the result of years spent teaching and guiding students in writing workshops. In a discussion about structure, she writes:
Sometimes the structure of a piece arises organically, and it seems that the piece chooses how it wants to be structured; other times, it might take multiple drafts and many attempts at different structures to find the one that fits, the one that best serves the piece of writing. Structure is always tied to the story, and identifying the heart of your piece will help you decide what kind of structure you need.
This kind of sound, practical and sensible advice is Hopper’s forte. Along with her personable insights and enthusiastic coaching, Hopper also includes terrific excerpts from other writers to help illustrate her points, as well as highly effective writing prompts geared towards helping a writer get started and keep going.
Like its arch title, Hopper’s book is funny, friendly and approachable. In the way of all good admonishments, the book encourages us to put down the excuses and pick up the pen. And like the best books on writing and craft, it gives us the tools and techniques to do just that.