Has something come up when you least expected it and done you a lot of good? This happened to me recently.

I got an opportunity to review, “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers”: Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Amy Newmark & Susan M. Heim;  Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, 2013;  405 pp; $ 14.95.

“Chicken Soup for the Soul” a world leader in life improvement, in itself scarcely needs an introduction.  With almost 200 titles in print and translations into more than 40 languages, over 112 million books have been sold to date in the US and Canada alone making “Chicken Soup for the Soul” one of the world’s best-known phrases.

“101 Motivational Stories for Writers- Budding or Bestselling-from Books to Blogs,” is the by line of this anthology. The authors: Jack Canfield co-created the Chicken Soup for the Soul series which Time magazine called “the publishing phenomenon of the decade.” Mark Victor Hansen is the Co-founder of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Amy Newmark has co-authored more than five dozen Chicken Soup for the Soul books and edited another three dozen, while Susan M. Heim too has co-authored many books in this series built around her interests in parenting, women’s and Christian issues.

What I loved most about this book is that you can literally dip into any part of it at will. You can read stories based on your specific needs. It’s not necessary at all for you to start at the very beginning, as it is structured to be an anthology of 101 takeaways, if you will. These are shared by 101 people who know what it takes to be writers. You are privy to their struggles and triumphs, failures and successes described in their own words, in their own styles.

The book is arranged in 11 Chapters each with its own theme. Each of the chapters has 8-11 stories contributed by different writers.

I would like to share what impressed me most in these chapters:

Chapter 1 : Facing My Fears: The book opens with writers speaking of overcoming fear which is something that strikes the inexperienced and veteran writer alike. They write of what held them back from writing, and how they overcame those hurdles. “I realized that day that I didn’t want to be a biochemical engineer, or a doctor, or a lawyer at all. Those had never been my dreams. I wanted to write. So I went home. I wrote. And I haven’t stopped since.”- Amy Zhang.

Chapter 2: A Little Help From My Friends: reminiscent of that old Beatles oldie but goldie, this set of stories tells you how you can benefit from your friends rather than struggle in isolation. It talks of the value of sharing, of getting feedback and support. “Part of what makes our group work is that we all genuinely enjoy each other’s writing. Our styles are different enough to keep things interesting and there are no prima donnas,” writes Mimi Greenwood Knight highlighting how each member of her writing group gains from the others.

Chapter 3: Making Time To Write: As you can imagine, all the contributors lead very busy lives as do you and me. Some work full-time, some have parenting responsibilities, some look after the home, some have all of these and more. Yet they write. They do this by making time to pursue their passion, even if it is just a little each day. Mary C M Phillips sums it up, “Discipline is a trait that does not come naturally to me. But as a mother and a writer, its something I cannot do without.”

Chapter 4: Take My Advice: Writers and would be writers are candid about seeking advice even from those who sometimes on the face of it, may not seem to have much to offer. L S Johnson had these memorable words told to her by her professor, “The work has to speak for itself.” She says it took her years to understand what he meant.  As the quote from Alexis Carrel at the start of the chapter says,” All of us at certain moments of our lives need to take advice and to receive help from other people.”

Chapter 5: Wrestling With Writer’s Block: Procrastination. Running out of steam. Conflicting priorities. We have seen them all and they result in what every writer dreads, but does admit to experiencing, writer’s block. At times we get so immersed in our project that we find it difficult to stand back and look at things dispassionately. We need something to get us going again. A friend told Dayle Allen Shockley, “You don’t want to destroy the gift God has given you” which had a great effect on her and got her writing again.

Chapter 6: The Healing Power of Words: I love the amazing story of Sally Friedman meeting a group of old ladies, all in their seventies and eighties, and all survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. This and other stories speak of how words encourage others, much more than we think possible. We have the skill to tell stories which can impact others. Robin A. Burrows writes beautifully of how much her stories and poems meant to a friend on his death-bed.

Chapter 7: Mentors Who Mattered: All of us have gained from being mentors and having mentored others. In this set of stories, Gail MacMillan’s, “A Scholar and A Gentleman” stands out in my opinion as does Hank Phillippi Ryan who ends her story, “Throw someone a lifeline and it may be your own life that gets saved.”

Chapter 8: Reflections on Rejection: Writers learn early in their careers to accept rejections as being a part of the game. Though the effects of the first rejection can be devastating, over time it makes you stronger. History is replete with examples of many who were rejected many times before becoming world-famous authors. The secret is to keep at it. John P. Buentello writes, “Today I am a published writer and I have learned that good writing takes hard work. I also learned that reaching your dreams means never quitting.”

Chapter 9: Finding Inspiration. “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club” wrote Jack London. Contributors speak of the people, places and things that inspired them to write and to continue writing. I was particularly touched by the story by J. A. Jance, the New York Times bestselling author, of how she was inspired by the name of a person she knew at school on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC.

Chapter 10: Try, Try Again: Success seldom comes to most writers at the first shot. For many it’s a long grind over years, calling for immense effort, physical as well as emotional. Writers use their own methods to keep at it. Choose what work best for you. Shawn Marie Mann writes, “Sometimes when its been a while since I have sold a story, I will pull out that first book, and the copy of that first check I keep tucked inside, as proof to myself that I can do it, that I have done it, and that I’ll do it again”

Chapter 11: Writing Changes Lives. In this the last chapter, writers speak of how their stories have literally changed lives. My pick is a moving story by Leticia Velasquez. “My Daughter Helped Me Become a Writer” is a story of her daughter born with Down syndrome. ” I thought about how much my little girl, whom the world sees as disabled, inspired her mother to see her talents and start to change the world” writes Ms. Velasquez.

I write thrillers and I am used to building a story till it reaches its climax. Perhaps this is the reason I felt that if there is a drawback, (if at all you can call it that),  it is that all the stories, however inspiring,  are fairly similar. They are about a fight against adversity and how the writer succeeds in the end. I would therefore recommend that this NOT be read from start to finish like a novel. You must dip into it to read a story or two at a time.

“The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it,” said James Bryce. I must admit I go away carrying a lot of positives. If you are looking for a book to gift a friend or family member who shows an interest in writing, this could be one they would cherish. For that matter, it is an ideal gift for anyone who wishes to become a writer- including you!

OVERALL RATING: 4/5.