Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reading About Writing

The past few months I have had a lot of reading time as I take the train to school everyday. I am slightly claustrophobic, so I need a book not only for my own pleasure, but to draw my attention away from from the mild panic that sets in every time the train goes underground.

Lately, this time has been devoted to writing research. While reading countless books about how to write every morning and every evening may seem a bit excessive, I have discovered it keeps me focused on my craft. When one is going to school for four hours, work for six, and commuting two and a half, I need the extra kick in the pants I get from reading other author's ideas on novel writing to make me ever want to look at my manuscript at the end of the day.

Any other attempting novelists out there; give this a try if you're having trouble sitting down to actually do the work. Nothing says shut up and do the work already like reading about how many other people have already done it.

That said, I am picky with which books I actually read. Walking down the writing reference aisle in Chapters one can see an endless supply of books that claim they can make your book stand out from the rest, that they have sure ways to get published, that they and they alone will cure your writer's block. After sampling a large grain of salt, I look through and read the synopsis' on a few. If I find it interesting, I read a few pages. If I think it looks promising, I put it on a list and go to the library because I am a student and writing books can be expensive.

Here is a bit about the ones I love the most, and which I have found most helpful:

Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly by Gail Carson Levine
All right; don't turn up your nose at this one just because the back cover says for ages 8 and up. I nearly did, but because it is by an author who writes in the same genre as I do, I gave it a try. Yes, there are some sections where she is definitely talking to kids, but I got some great tips from here. Sometimes as a writer I can get caught up in the obscure. Writing Magic brings me back to the basics.

I especially found the character interview in this book helpful. So many I find are not relevant to characters that do not live a realistic 21st century world. Levine's can cover any character. I use it every time I get stuck on characterization; it gives definition and style to all of them.

Thanks, But This Isn't For Us: A (Sort Of) Compassionate Guide to Why You're Writing is Getting Rejected by Jessica Page Morrell
I have already written an entire post about this book, so I won't get too into it again except to say, if you ever want to see your novel on a bookstore shelf; read it. Save it for when you are finished your first draft, but it's a must read.
Here's my other post on the book; in case you were wondering.

Now Write! Fiction Writing Exercises From Today's Best Writer's and Teachers by Sherry Ellis
I was most hesitant to pick up this one. It sounded to me like it would have too many ideas all smushed together; each author thinking theirs was the greatest, and I wouldn't be able to make up my mind as to who I should listen to. For some reason I cannot completely understand, I picked it up, and am glad I did. I did not find it as fantastic as Morrell's, but it's a good reference. I would keep it on hand for writer's block if you ever need to look up an exercise on a certain aspect.

The book does not follow a methodical order for writing or editing a book, it's merely a guide to writing exercises in getting started, character development, dialogue, plot, setting, revision, etc. I would still keep on hand when I needed a new exercise idea though.

A Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals by Moira Allen
Again, a book filled with contributions from various writers, this is the best "how to get published" book I have found. For those who are as clueless as me to how the pitching process works, read it. The book is filled with lots of tips, analysis and examples of successful pitches to reference. There's also a lot tips from authors on how to deal with rejection so you don't cry too much when that twentieth one comes in the mail.

The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
Again, don't judge too fast! When my sister Katey first told me about this book I was prepared to turn up my nose at this hippie sounding book, but she is very stubborn and insisted, so I read it. This book is different from the rest on this blog because it is not a reference book and it isn't even written specifically for writers. This book is for any kind of artist; it's purpose is to get you past the half-baked zone of creating art as a hobby or thinking about writing that book you've had percolating in your head for years and actually doing what you want. The book is outlined in a twelve-week program and it really works. I went from someone who looked at their manuscript every other month and didn't even always write then to completing my first draft in two months and starting a sequel.

I am of the opinion that everyone should read this book, but especially aspiring writers. Seriously, don't be turned off by the kumbaya-sounding name.

If anyone else has suggestions of good writing books, I'd love to hear them.

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