Writers are insufferable creatures of melancholy and regret. We love to write, yet we’re sure we don’t do it often enough (we’re probably right about that), and even when we do, we generally regard our prose creations with disdain.
What? I wrote THAT?!
My novel-writing train is again chugging out of the station as of 1/1/13. In addition to finishing two of my Unfinished Epics in 2013 (see, that capitalization got MY attention), I also resolve to write one short story per month. (Defined by anything under 3,500 words).
My writing charge is firm and clear.
Even more than writing, though, we’re the world’s worst when it comes to reading, or thinking we should be reading, or berating ourselves because we think we’re not reading enough. (Let’s admit we can be a fairly miserable lot).
I’m certain that my life is littered with more unfinished reading lists than unfinished novels, so I’m not planning some grand announcement that THIS is the year I read a dozen classics and become enraptured by a dozen new authors. Maybe will, maybe won’t.
JUMPING OFF THE SHELF
But my writer’s library grew by two books on Christmas, thanks to my most supportive reader — the woman who has been listening to and reading my most imaginative embellishments for 30-plus years. My wife. She asked for a Christmas gift list and I produced a detailed accounting of my literary desires. She must have given Santa a good report, because I now possess Novelist’s Boot Camp (penned by former West Point assistant professor Todd A. Stone) and The Writer’s Workout (from veteran writing coach Christina Katz).
I’ve needed the drill-sergeant approach advocated by Stone. If I can develop the discipline that he says writing demands, then I’ll be published by year’s end. Most of us have a writer’s how-to book that tells us, “These are the rules, but rules are made to be broken,” and I love hearing that, because then I don’t feel constricted by those stifling rules of writing. But Stone takes a much different approach, and I appreciate his honesty:
“Are you a best-selling or acclaimed author? No. You don’t even have a book yet. After you’ve written and published your third, fifth or tenth book, you can break all the rules you want. Until then, to get your idea on paper, to produce a complete book-length work of fiction, just to get the darn thing written and get it done and done well, do as you’re told.”
Yes, sir! The book has 101 drills, so reading two or three a week can’t hurt. (However, Stone does occasionally write, “Drop and give me 20 push-ups,” so, yes, I suppose it could hurt).
Whereas Boot Camp is broken into manageable, writer-friendly sections, The Writer’s Workout has 366 one-page “chapters” offering tips, tasks and techniques. It’s also arranged in four sections that match the seasons of nature or the seasons of life.
This is from Day 1: “Write until writing becomes as natural as breathing. Write until not writing makes you anxious.” Make it a habit and a natural function, in other words — not a duty or responsibility. (Tough to follow in some respects when it comes to my day job as a newspaper journalist, where on 1/1/13 I covered the county government swearing-in ceremony of new elected officials AND the customary “first baby of the year” story, which did lend itself to a more creative approach.)
ALSO ON THE SHELF
Those are the newest additions to my writer’s library. I pulled a few others off the shelf, but offer only brief, Twitter-like reviews.
Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer, James V. Smith Jr., is the single book that gets me unstuck and unblocked. Smith’s riddle to “Begin at the End” is the best single piece of noveling advice I’ve ever read.
The Glamour of Grammar, Roy Peter Clark, includes these chapter header gems: Consult a thesaurus to remind yourself of words you already know; Master the elliptical art of leaving things out; and, Play with sounds, natural and literary. (It’s a fun book that I happened to win on a fun Twitter contest a couple of years ago).
The Power of Point of View, Alicia Rasley. She presents the hard-fast rules about not ever changing POV in a scene, then promptly suggests that writers not always follow that rule. I’m guessing Todd Stone would make her run laps for writing that.
What are some of your go-to writer’s how-to books? What’s your reading plan for 2013? Bonus question: In the event that someone might want to discover a new author or two in 2013, what are your suggestions — and why?