First you write… by Joni Rodgers

 The full titles is: First You Write: The Worst Way to become an Almost Famous Author and the Best Advice I Got While Doing It

I read this voraciously in two sittings – and sometimes standing (on the Tube escalator) or walking (homeward bound, nose to Kindle). Partly because it’s short, but more because Rodgers’s voice grabs you and doesn’t let go.

Joni is the author of more than a dozen books, both as herself and as a ghostwriter. She’s done the Big 6 publishers, the New York Times bestseller lists and is now a rumbustious champion for indie publishing.

This book, her writing memoir, shows the graft behind the glitter. A rebellious bookloving kid, Joni wrote secret novels for years, screwed up her courage and started sending them out. She felt the rejections hard, despaired that she was getting nowhere, resolved to stop this nonsense, got sucked back by new ideas and thought ‘surely I have learned enough and this one will succeed’.

Other significant players are the husband and the school English teacher – perhaps obligatory players in any writing biog. Except these are not doting supporters but complex, cussed people who earn your curiosity and attention.

Joni is likable, vulnerable, wise and funny. Her prose is clear as a magnifying glass. The advice mentioned in the title – from mentors and fellow authors – is blunt and honest: ‘there are no rules for the unruly’. No rules, no formulae – just a bunch of word-smitten obsessives trying to find their own strength in a crazy profession. Even once she got serious attention from agents, there were more lessons to learn about the realities of publishing – such as pretending you weren’t a girl.

So far, so familiar. Most aspiring authors know it takes perverse amounts of perseverance, especially to juggle a creative calling with real life. For Rodgers there was an added reality check. She’s also known for her cancer memoir Bald in the Land of Big Hair. Although her illness is not the subject of this book (and she didn’t really want it to be the subject of that one), its influence has to be reckoned with. Writing becomes not just the fulfilment of a dream and a means to earn a living – but a lifeline in the fog. And this intimacy is what makes the book so compelling, whether you’re an author or not. Where many writers use humour and attitude to hide, Rodgers mines herself with unflinching honesty.

Reviewed by Roz Morris

Available in Kindle format

 Find out more about Joni Rodgers



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