Most helpful critical review
A Bad Guide Written By An Excellent Writer
on November 23, 2002
It is true that not all great writers are good teachers of writing; this book only proves the point. There are points of merit. Highsmith incorporates examples from her own work, even from her mistakes, and the manner with which she discusses her own work (with a mercilessly objective eye) is interesting to read.
That said, there is not much original advice this writer has to offer. Much of it is insipid regurgitations of what many others have said, or what the tortured inner selves of all writers say in their heads. She even makes a disclaimer of this fact in the beginning of the book, but when I found out that she really wasn't kidding - that this book really had nothing of real teaching value to offer - I was more than disappointed, because I highly respect Patricia Highsmith as a writer, and love her books.
She makes much of the craft of writing, but even when discussing writing itself, she makes it seem it's such bloodless working out of logic. This book made me understand why Ms. Highsmith chose to write suspense; much of her drive to write, and her writing practice itself, is driven by her relentless desire for a commercial success. This is not to say that she did not care writing for writing's sake. But reading this book, it became apparent that commercialism was the governing force in her writing, and this approach can be quite detrimental to a young writer learning his/her craft, I imagine.
The best of Highsmith's books and stories had a rare blend of artistry and craft. It's a shame that this book contains no special insights on making art, but only exposes grating machinery of the craft.