Because You Have To

A Writing Life

Joan Frank

Winner of the Silver Award in Writing, ForeWord Magazine’s 2012 Book of the Year Award

Part memoir, part handbook, part survey of the contemporary literary scene, Joan Frank’s Because You Have To: A Writing Life is a collection of essays that, taken together, provide a walking tour of the writing life. Frank’s aim is to form a coherent vision, one that may provide some communion about realities of the writer’s vocation that have struck her as rarely revealed.

Frank offers what she has learned as a writer not only to other writers, but to those to whom good writing matters. Her insights about “thinking on paper” are never dogmatic or pontifical; rather, they are cordial and intellectually welcoming.

Original, witty, and practical, Frank ably steers us through the journey of her own life as a writer, as well as through the careers and work of other writers. Her subjects range widely, from the “boot camp” conditioning of marketing work to squaring off with rejection and envy; from sustaining belief in art’s necessity to the baffling subjectivity of literary perception and the magical books that nourish writers. Frank’s personal journey is wonderfully told, so that what in these essays is particular becomes useful and universal.

Joan Frank is the author of five books of fiction. Her story collection In Envy Country (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010) won the Richard Sullivan Prize in Fiction and ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award for Short Stories, and was a finalist for the California Book Award. Joan is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the Dana Award, Michigan Literary Fiction Award, Iowa Writing Award, and Emrys Fiction Award, and recipient of grants from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, Barbara Deming Fund, and Sonoma Arts Council. She lives in northern California.

“A knowledgeable and trustworthy guide: original, funny, personal, and practical. Beautifully, gracefully told, in marvelous detail and with great, sensible counsel. The anecdotes are delightful; marvelously readable.” — Jay Neugeboren, author of You Are My Heart and 1940

“Once in a blue moon a book on writing comes along that reads as though it’s speaking directly to you. Because You Have To is just that: an honest and wise and brave account of what it means to be a writer in this odd, new century. I recommend to you this rare thing, a book packed full of useful information that is also a work of art.” — John McNally, author of After the Workshop

“What I treasure is Joan Frank’s voice, placed so beautifully in concert with those of a multitude of writers in our tradition. She has turned research into art and advice into song. No matter where you are in your artistic evolution, you will appreciate this writer-blues, writer-opera, writer-jazz.” — David Huddle, author of La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl and Nothing Can Make Me Do This

“Wittily, elegantly, disputatiously, passionately, Joan Frank lays bare the paradox-ridden psychology of the artistic vocation. She has a wised-up and intimate knowledge of the writing life’s curriculum: doubt, fear, anticipation, rejection, recovery. Here is a writer speaking from the heart. Because You Have To delivers hard-won recognitions with an almost disconcerting fluency.” — Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age and The Other Walk: Essays.

“Poignant and witty, trenchant and tender, lament and celebration—wisdom deeply honed, in beautifully crafted sentences. A companion volume in the truest sense: a book for writers at every stage, through every mood of the writing life.” — Noelle Oxenhandler, author of The Wishing Year and The Eros of Parenthood

“On every page of these stunning essays, Frank lays bare the hardest truths of being a writer, and on every page she confesses her hopeless, passionate love for the pursuit. The artist’s conundrum has rarely been so eloquently voiced. Part erudite treatise, part love letter, Because You Have To is certain to find myriad ardent admirers of its own.” — Robin Black, author of If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This

“There are craft books. There are ‘Just do it’ books. There are memoirs. But Because You Have To is the story of what it is like to be a real literary writer in the 21st century, a story about time, money, desire, anxiety, and (complicated) community. It’s about loving books, writing, and art. Occupational hazards of the writing life? Many. Pleasures for the reader? Plenty—if Joan Frank is the writer, and Because You Have To is the book.” — Debra Spark, author of The Pretty Girl and Curious Attractions: Essays on Fiction Writing


“The struggle to write becomes the struggle to wrest clear-headedness from the anxious bread-and-butter strivings and obligations that demand our attention throughout the day. As the author of three novels . . ., two short story collections, and an earlier volume of essays, Joan Frank is one of the clearest-headed writers working. Because You Have To shows us how she gets the work done.” —

“Joan Frank puts the fruits of her prolific writing career onto the page in her latest work, Because You Have To: A Writing Life . . . The Santa Rosa-based writer has produced two short story collections—including In Envy Country, winner of the Richard Sullivan Prize in Fiction—and three novels. In this writing memoir, Frank tackles the topics of rejection (“Rejection, then, is like the wake of a boat: proof of motion”), the dubious benefit of travel to the imagination, the art of writing character, envy, and “death” of the book as we know it. Frank’s sentences are highly stylized and don’t shy away from making intellectual demands . . . [I]t’s an essay collection that’s sure to inspire picking up the pen and writing with the same fervor, wisdom and dedication as its author.” —

“Reading this book made me feel good about being a writer. There is no glorification of the art here; there is good sense and a talent for describing the paradoxes inherent in the writing life. Frank’s book is an unsentimental, refreshing tribute to the trials and to the happy satisfaction of making sentences that come out right, one after another, until by golly you have written a book. Because you had to.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“Frank has two books out this year, one, a short novel of friendship and long marriage _ and, the other, a book of both instruction and inspiration for how to endure a long career as a writer _(Because You Have To). The usual Frank frankness enlivens both volumes, along with prose that can be, simultaneously, lyrical and biting. The novel and the nonfiction book are charming examples of an author who can both show and tell.” — Notre Dame Review

“[Frank] offers non-nostalgic yet intimate insights into her writing life—not for conventional pedagogy, but to share tools about a journey that brings thoughts, stories, ideas, and feelings communicative to a world out there through pen and paper.” — Cerise Press

“This isn’t a Dummies guide or a ‘Secrets to Success’ book; it’s more like therapy for those who wield a pen or a keyboard to survive . . . This is for the minds that cannot turn off, with moleskin journals of caffeine-fueled rants and burning forearms from pen-scrawled manifestos in flipbook notepads. This is for writers.” — North Bay Bohemian