★★★★★ At the heart of Philip Kenney’s meditative book for authors entitled The Writer’s Crucible is the idea that writers of all ages, genres, and nationalities are plagued by a common enemy—shame. This powerfully negative and primal emotion, Kenney says, leads to self-doubt, embarrassment, and disappointment when our writing doesn’t turn out quite the way we expected. Over the course of his book, Kenney seeks to examine and unpack the significance of psychological trauma in writers’ lives, with the goal of restoring the flow of creativity and strengthening their craft. Nearly every chapter focuses on a key aspect of the novel-writing process, and contains a short anecdote or exercise designed to unlock any blockage the writer might feel toward that particular area. A chapter entitled “Dialogue,” for example, describes the author’s own difficulty communicating with his father, and how working through that difficulty allowed him to open up and craft better dialogue in his writing. Another chapter called “The Villain(s)” seeks to diminish the power of depression and anxiety, which distract and disturb numerous writers all over the world, especially in relation to their own work.
Make no mistake: The Writer’s Crucible is not a writing guide; it’s a writer’s guide. It’s not the road map, or the compass, or the state-of-the-art GPS system; but it is the walking stick, the roadside diner, the spare tire, which often serve us better than anything else, even if they don’t tell us quite how to reach our destination. Perhaps the best part of Kenney’s book is that it seeks to connect writers over a common problem—this nagging and unflagging feeling of not being good enough. Kenny encourages breaking down barriers not just when it comes to our own craft, but also in our day-to-day interactions with everyone we meet. The Writer’s Crucible is an excellent tool for authors that encourages a return to human connectivity. Its message is strengthened by the book’s meditative exercises, which ask you to set aside your sense of self and to think about your place in “the big picture.”