Welcome to the best writing books I discovered/rediscovered this year. Although I'd love to pretend that I'm up on everything shiny and new, by no means are these all 2012 specimens. To be honest I have a lot of disdain for many instructional writing books out there that promise tricks of the trade and magical transformations of writing style when honestly reading other good authors can do just as much if not more. That being said, I enjoy trolling sites trying to find or rediscover the good ones. I also teach a Creative Writing course at my high school (yes - very lucky to do so) and I can rationalize reading these books not only as personal writing development but also research for school. And who doesn't love multitasking!
Wired for Story by Lisa Cron - I love, love, love this one, and it flies against every writing principle I hold dear. It speaks little of the beauty of writing and rather focuses on plot and the psychological impact your story can make on the human psyche. Essentially what does our brain crave when we read a book? Cron culls both film and literary examples, and I can't tell you how many lines I underlined of both her original thought and extensive psychological research that ties in perfectly with the writing process. There's also a neat section at the end of each chapter prompting you to ask very direct questions about your own work. I can't recommend this enough, especially since it's a short read. I managed to get through in about three days.
The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi - More of a reference than a read, every writer needs this book. No matter how skilled you are, you probably defer to a pout or a lip quiver for certain emotions, and this little guy provides pages of actions that help us show rather than tell in unusual ways. Quite easy to navigate and very straightforward.
The Elements of Style Illustrated by William Strunk and E. B. White - I hate grammar. There, I've said it, and I half expect the English teacher police to drag me out to the back yard and beat me (or at least take my teacher's card away). This is not to say I don't respect the heck out of grammar. I love syntax, I love playing with words, I love splitting infinitives with purpose. But I also hate the fact that not all of my mistakes are stylistic choices. Sometimes I flub, and those mistakes bug me later on or worse yet, sometimes I don't catch them at all and feel like a ninny when someone else points them out. I mean yeesh, I'm an English teacher. Don't I know them all? Nope. And this is the seminal text on not all, but certainly the most important rules and more importantly how they affect your writing. Another that can be used as a reference or read cover to cover. There is a non-illustrated version as well, but seriously, LOOK at that cute dog on the cover. Get this one.
Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood - Margaret Atwood is brilliant. Period. Her fiction and poetry are sharp, her essays insightful. And I love how creepy these two appear on the cover. I bought this book at least five or ten years ago, and I finally got around to reading it. A BIG WARNING HERE! This is not a how-to write book. Rather this is a highly intellectual look at her process. That being said it feels like sitting down with her and peeking inside her brain, sort of a Being Margaret Atwood if you will. It's not an easy read, and there are parts that drag. But it's worth it. The book will challenge your brain and make you question your own process. It might be complimentary to read this with one of her fiction books as well (Oryx and Crake).
On Writing by Stephen King - On the flip side, I'm not a Stephen King fan. I've read the classics and was never compelled, except maybe by Itthat just scared the living daylights out of me. I find King formulaic. But this book IS a how-to write masterpiece. And it's worth a dozen reads. Conservatively this past year was my sixth, maybe seventh journey through, spurred by one of my students reading it. And I am never disappointed. Half of the book is King's life replete with a detailed account of his love of reading. In my mind he is an ideal model of a writer, who clearly states over and over "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or tools to write." Never has there been a truer statement about writing. I see too many writing students who insist on being writers when they either don't enjoy reading or refuse to make the time to read anything of quality. And quality doesn't equal classic. I learned plenty from the Sweet Valley High series when I was a teen. The second half of the book is King's advice on how to write, and while his novels aren't my cup of tea, the man's a very, very good writer. Pick this up and make it part of your yearly writer renewal. You'll be glad you did.
I tried to devise a snazzier title, but considering my resolutions are rather cut and dry this year, a utilitarian title suits. I had also planned to start by looking back at last year's resolutions and assessing those, but I think that's for another post. Tonight I'm peering straight ahead into the next 365 day ride.
1) I need to write every day for at least one hour...no cheating. I've always fought against this adage because in my own mind ten minutes of quality writing is worth an hour of garbage. That being said, I'm too easy on myself. I bank the good days of several hours of writing to justify lamer days where little gets done.
2) I need to view writing as a primary job. I'm a teacher...and I love it. All the time, even on the days when a student has me ready to jump out a window. But I love writing just as much, and I need to stop feeling guilty when I make time for it. It may not be bringing in the big bucks just yet (or ever), but it still deserves as much attention as my other jobs like teaching, parenting, etc.
3) I need to build more Lego sets. Seriously, it's important. Yesterday my family and I raided our embarrassingly huge stock of unfinished sets and created the following:
The Mummy + Pirates of the Caribbean + LOTR + Bionicles + Avengers + The Hobbit + Star Wars. At least three or four times during the building process my brain raced to places in my current WIP and other stories where I could add new ideas or create subplots. The Lego adventure jumpstarted my creative process because I was making SOMETHING. Even if it did involve following another artist's plans, and yes those Lego geniuses who make these schematics are artists, I still felt creative and there are too many tasks in a routine day that try to suck that creativity right out of my toes. So I need to do more artsy and building stuff.
4) I need to talk to other writers. I have friends who write who I speak to, but we tend to get sidetracked with children and teaching and shoes. I need to do the writer speak thing more often. I am excited when I hear others speak of their processes, and I am happy to blab endlessly about how I write, too.
5) If I'm not sending my writing out SOMEWHERE, it's not suiting it's full purpose. Don't get me wrong, rejection is an integral part of being a writer, and it's a terrifying one. I know that there are some pieces I write which will never see the light of day. (A month after graduating Dickinson I wrote a short story called Cats and Guinness that I fully believed would be published in seconds and sadly still pouts in my binder of early writing with no magazines a' calling.) But it's the trying, the preparation, the process that can't really be a process without that last stretch. Otherwise writing becomes more of a selfish act, a pleasing myself and then stopping sort of act. And for me, anyway, that's not ok.
6) I WILL WRITE DOWN ALL OF MY GOOD IDEAS! If it wouldn't have been obnoxious, I would have made that one a million and a half font because there are dozens of fabulous sentences and characters and bits that are lost forever because I simply refused to slow down and capture them. I am not a surgeon up to my wrists in blood and a man's heart, I am not a pilot maneuvering an airplane above the clouds, and I am not a cowgirl engaged in a whiskey fueled gunfight. Therefore I can stop whatever I'm doing and tap ideas into my phone or use the ridiculously bad ass fountain pen my husband bought me for Christmas to write things down. No exceptions. No excuses.
7) Last but not least, I will be grateful. I get to be a writer. Somewhere in my brain is an insidious spark to create things, and I am blown away that everyone doesn't want to write all the time. Too often this past year I grumbled over minutia that wasn't that bad, or bad at all. And those moments all stole from my general happiness of being and my writing. Unacceptable, and I won't allow it in myself or those surrounding me this year.
Of course there are a million other resolutions that would look fabulous on paper (or screen). No more social networking. Oh FB and Twitter, you time goblins! Write every day between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. because I'm just that committed. I will go to sleep reading Hemingway rather than swooning over The Vampire Diaries. But I'd rather these resolution be honest, be straightforward, the way I hope my writing ends up. Have a beautiful new year all you beautiful writers. Let's make it the absolute best we can, shall we?
Writing has always been an escape, a passion, and a friend. And I love the fact that in my free time and through my career I can help others discover their voice, too.