Unfuck Your Writing by Joe Biel and Faith G. Harper

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Unfuck Your Writing is a guide to overcoming the barriers to writing by publisher Joe Biel and professional counselor Faith G. Harper, PhD. It’s shorter than many writing guides, but it has a big goal: “to teach you to write so that your words have the greatest possible impact on the world.”

Overview

A red book cover with the title "Unfuck Your Writing" and an illustrated fist holding up a pen

Title: Unfuck Your Writing: Write Better, Reach Readers, and Share Your Inner World
Author: Joe Biel and Faith G. Harper, PhD, LPC-s, ACS, ACN
ISBN: 9781648410147
Publisher: Microcosm Publishing

  • Entertainment value: medium
  • Usefulness: medium/high
  • Recommended if you:
    • want a quick guide to writing
    • want to better understand some barriers to writing
    • experience imposter syndrom

Review

Having read my fair share of writing guides, I was surprised by how much Unfuck Your Writing is able to cover in just 127 pages. In their introduction, the authors promise to distil the most fundamental writing advice and they’re quite successful in this. They cover what writing is, how our views on writing can “get fucked,” rules for writing, the editorial process, and more. And they do so in a straightforward, conversational manner. Instead of treating writing like a sacred mystery, the authors are adamant that writing isn’t rocket science. They provide the information needed to understand the desire to write and the things that prevent us from doing so.

I picked this book up because I was interested in looking at writing from a mental health perspective. The chapters “How Your Writing Gets Fucked” and “This Is Your Brain On Writing” and “Why Do You Write?” all address mindset. And there’s a clear emphasis on being honest with oneself about motivation, goal setting, and desires throughout the book. I was glad to have these sections, and I think they take into account some things other writing resources don’t. Still, I was expecting a bit more focus on writing while managing poor mental health. Then again, this is a writing guide, not a mental health guide for writers.

In terms of actual writing advice, Biel and Harper bring their own author experiences to the table. They give examples and walk readers through some tenets of good writing. Many of these are familiar, like “show, don’t tell.” The authors explain these “writing commandments” quickly and concisely, which will appeal to those who’ve tried slogging through longer writing manuals.

The sections on the editorial process and getting published contain practical advice and helpful lists and checklists. As an editor, I appreciate the book’s discussion of the different stages of editing as I’ve had to explain these to writers often. Again, the language here is conversational, which helps shine light on parts of the writing industry that can lack transparency.

Unfuck Your Writing accomplishes a lot in its slim package. Like The Kick-Ass Writer, it takes an easy-to-understand approach to writing, which those of us who feel time-crunched will no doubt appreciate. The book would make a great gift for an aspiring author at the beginning of their writing career.

Lessons from Unfuck Your Writing

You Need Balance

In their chapter on how writing gets fucked up, the authors discuss the forces that make us believe we have nothing of value to write and the potentially false promises of writing programs and self-publishing. They note that imposter syndrome can stop us from writing. Meanwhile, over-confidence can lead to poor quality writing. (And that poor writing will go unread, which reinforces imposter syndrome.) To write successfully, they recommend finding balance: “You need a healthy amount of ego to think you have something to say,” but you also need to put in the work to write, seek feedback, and improve.

Know Your Audience and Media Type

The authors include knowing your audience as once of their writing commandments. This is common advice, but they expand on it with an interesting section on writing for print. They cite some studies that suggest the brain reacts differently to paper and screens. The authors thus suggest that writing for print should mean engaging your audience at a deeper level: “A book becomes a relationship you engage in, that leaves you changed for the better. Readers want to know the real you, the real story, and the things that you’ve been afraid to plaster all over the internet because you’re afraid that you’d be torn to shreds. Above all, writing is a place to go deeper.”

Don’t Get Stuck Reading About How To Write

To close out this review, I want to leave you with one commandment from the book that might seem funny coming from a writing resource: “Do not endlessly consume media about ‘how to be creative.’” This is a good reminder that, at the end of the day, you can only write by writing.

Is there a writing book you’d like me to review? Let me know in the comments.

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