Rejection, Romance & Royalties

This collection of essays about making a living as a fiction writer had me laughing out loud and reading extended sections (when I could get them out without cracking up) to my critique group and long-suffering husband.  Besides being a healthy dose of fun, these  essays were practical and encouraging.  I’m currently borrowing my copy from the library, but I may just get one of my own. Yes, it’s that good.  If you’re a writer, or even if you just need a good laugh, you might want to check this book out.

See Jane Write: A Girl’s Guide to Writing Chick Lit

I meant to get a book on writing children’s lit from the library, but it wasn’t in, and this was near the empty spot in the stacks (with the “chick lit” part of the title conveniently covered by the library’s bar code). So I picked it up.

I’m glad I did. I’m not sure there’s any advice in here that I hadn’t already heard, but I loved the solid encouragement. Ms. Jacobs and Ms. Mlynowski keep their advice light, but practical, and they wrap the whole book in the attitude that writing novels (and getting them published) is an attainable career path. Maybe not an easy career path, but a possible one.

Plus, they do all this with wit and humor (made me laugh out loud at least twice–had to attempt to explain the jokes to J. and botched the translation–ah, the joys of a multicultural household). They included lots of good examples and a couple of lovely bibliographies, too.

Even though the publishing tips are outdated (it doesn’t even mention the possibility of self-publishing), I’d definitely recommend this to any writer friends who’d like a craft refresher or a pep talk.

The Creative Life

Not strictly a book on writing–but a workbook for being creative as a believer. My Sunday school class at The Rising (I miss you guys more than I can say) went through this last year.

I appreciated the push to use our whole self (imagination included) in the service of our Lord. Creativity is a gift, not to be neglected, nor to be worshiped, but like other gifts, to be encouraged, exercised, and channeled toward deepening our relationship with God and with others.

While I tended to find the exercises annoying and pointless, many of the questions about our own processes and work as creative people were insightful and helped me think through my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I think I’m a bit stronger for that.

Writing Stories

This slim little volume packs a lot of good advice, and it contains a fair few writing exercises that would seem like good ways to get going on a story if I didn’t have a plethora of stories I’m already going on.

It focuses a bit too much on journaling (an occupation that I’ve never found productive), and on getting ideas (a part of writing I’ve never had problems with), and it’s a touch too patronizing (as if the author doesn’t realize that young people are even more sensitive to that kind of thing than older ones.  As a writer for young people, doesn’t he know better?)

Still, there’s lots of good solid stuff on how to make memories into more; how to show not tell, and how to do the important stuff, like characters and setting and plot, well.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as a good starting place for someone who wants to get into story-writing.  Especially if they do have trouble coming up with ideas.

2,000 to 10,000: How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love

I read this after it was recommended by one of the other members of my critique group (Kendrick E. Knight, who writes delightful science fiction available on amazon).  I couldn’t claim to be writing anything like 2,000 words to start with and was interested in seeing how this woman increased her productivity so impressively.

One of the things I most appreciated about Ms. Aaron’s book was that instead of saying “do it this way,” she suggests that writers figure out what works for them and then do that.  Lots of authors are productive in the mornings (she’s not); others do well late at night.  Some need quiet; some need music.  Some write most fluidly in coffee shops; others need to be alone and unplugged.  Ms. Aaron suggests keeping track of some hard data for a period of time, and then using that data to empirically figure out what works–for you.  Because it might not be the same thing that works for her, or a critique partner or the leader of a writing workshop.

I’m not as sure about some of the other advice in this book For example, Ms. Aaron insists that planning at least a bit before writing something in full speeds up the process.  I’ve tried it a few times, and am not convinced.  She also insists that speeding things up doesn’t reduce the quality of her writing at all, but there’s a certain lack of polish to her book that makes me think she might be fooling herself on this point.

On the whole, though, I feel 2,000-10,000 was well worth the couple of bucks and couple of hours I spent on it.  It has made me think about what works for me, and that has increased my output, if only marginally.

Robert’s Rules of Writing

I picked this book of short essays (tips) on writing in a thrift store because the price was right, but I knew I’d enjoy it when the very first rule was “Burn your Journal.” Though plenty of writers I know find journals helpful, I’ve never been able to keep one, being too busy writing stories I might want to read again later.

Apart from the journal rule, there wasn’t much in Masello’s list of pithy hints that I hadn’t heard already (often multiple times), but there were lots of good reminders–make heroes fallible and  give villains good points; polish writing up, but don’t hang onto it forever . . .. There was also the occasional gem I hadn’t heard before, but thought might be worth a try (don’t be afraid to try a new genre or length–mixing it up can improve writing overall, and may lead to a new strength).

At any rate, as a book on writing, this one struck me as more helpful than most.  Maybe all that means is that my writing process approximates Robert Masello’s more than it approximates Stephen King’s or Annie Dillard’s (or the processes of several other writers whose names I cannot now remember).  Or maybe it means Mr. Masello has better or more accessible advice.  At any rate, I think I’ll hang onto this book for a while.  I find it useful to occasionally remind myself of  writing best practices (or at least, best practices for me).

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire

This, believe it or not, is a book on English grammar.  (It’s subtitled The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed.)  As such, it’s a lucid explanation of parts of speech and basic syntax, with entertaining examples, whimsical illustrations, and a vivid (if somewhat bossy) voice.

Even so, I found my interest flagging  about two-thirds of the way through.  I guess that even for a grammar nerd like me, the topic is more of something I look up when I have questions than something I want to read about.   Still, this book is a valiant effort to make a dry subject live, and I may keep the book around for those times when I get asked grammar questions and can’t think of any examples at all, let alone ones that might shed light on the subject.

Goal, Motivation & Conflict and The Elements of Style

Lots of writing friends have recommended Goal, Motivation & Conflict, and I’ve finally read it.  I think it has some great content.  It would have made an excellent brochure or conference workshop.  It could have been an enlightening series of blog posts.  As a book, it’s a bit fluffy.  Don’t get me wrong–I love examples and charts as much as the next person.  Not being exceptionally stupid, however, I can usually make do with one or two, rather than six or eight.  Why say in one-hundred-forty-four pages what you could say as well or better in thirty?

On the other hand, the advice, when pared down to its essence, is excellent.  Characters should reach for goals, they should have reasons for doing so, and their achievement of those goals shouldn’t be rose-strewn.  All of that was worth being reminded of, so I’m not sorry I read the book.

I’m not sorry I read The Elements of Style either.  This writer’s reference has also been recommended by writing friends, and I picked it up at an RMFW conference a few years back.  Though sometimes strident, this pithy book illustrates hundreds of ways to make language clear and concise. It does so with wit and verve. A few of the guidelines show their age (my version was printed in 1962), but most are timeless. This book I’m keeping.