Saturday, August 18, 2012

Books on Writing

I write. A lot. And I expect that I always shall.

And I plan to improve my writing as I go. So I look for inspiration and insight everywhere. "Everything is grist for the writer's mill." With that goal, I examine every book on writing that I encounter.

Here are some of the best.

The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction by John Dufresne

I encountered this book just a few weeks ago, but it is already on my "most recommended" list.

Dufresne's book reminds us of several very important and basic truths right from the start:
  • You can't have written unless you write
  • There's an infinity of things you can write about
  • There's no such thing as a perfect first draft
  • Good writing is good re-writing
Writing is not just putting words on paper or disc. The process of writing includes observing the world around us so we can mine the details to put into stories to make them believable and captivating. Dufresne provides exercises to increase our awareness of those details, and a wide range of examples of inspirations for story material. There are also many different exercises to encourage and maintain the flow of writing. The book also thoroughly addresses that which is oh-so-essential to quality writing: mindful editing and re-writing.

Conversational and humorous, The Lie That Tells A Truth provides the beginning writer with perspective on the craft (aided by many insightful quotes from authors and artists), plus editing guidelines useful to writers of any experience level.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury recently passed away, but in addition to his many memorable fictions he has left us this timeless book on the nature of writing.

Not so much a "how-to" as a "why-to", this book moves on to "have-to" -- if you feel you have to write to let out all of the details you have accumulated about life, if you cannot rest properly unless you have written, if you feel you have to give time to your observations and ideas or you might just burst, then this book is for you.

In true Bradbury fashion, it's really all about love: loving life, appreciating it to the fullest, then letting that love and excitement start your writing and fuel it every day. "I get up each morning and step onto a land mine and get blown to bits," writes Bradbury, "then I spend the rest of the day putting myself back together."

I defy anyone to read two pages of this wonderful, inspirational book without Ray stirring your blood and getting you excited about the possibilities of life. And wanting to write about them.

“And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.”  - Ray Bradbury

Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark

Lots of books on writing offer "tricks of the trade". Note that Roy Peter Clark promises not tricks but "tools" and "strategies" -- the writer as craftsperson, with a box of tools essential to the craft.

In workmanlike fashion, the author structures the book into four sections: "Nuts and Bolts," "Special Effects," "Blueprints," and "Useful Habits." Roughly half the book is devoted to creative techniques and strategies; the remainder presents tools for critiquing and tightening what has already been written. (Roy Peter Clark comes from a journalism background, and naturally supports clear and concise writing. But the techniques provided are important for writing clean fiction as well.)

This book is highly browsable -- open it to any page and you'll find a tool to help make your writing better. If fact, a writer might find it useful to copy the chapter concepts onto cards (Chapter 28: "Put odd and interesting things next to each other") and draw a card at random to apply to the day's writing.

You'll find yourself returning to it again and again. Then buying a copy. And recommending it to other writers.

Stein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein

"Inside information" from a veteran editor.

As mentioned elsewhere, there is no such thing as a perfect first draft. But even established authors can be so close to a project that they miss simple errors in the final draft.

Stein provides time-tested techniques for analyzing your writing, recognizing common traps that even the best writers fall into, and fixing any problems you find.

Flash Writing: How To Write, Revise and Publish Stories Less Than 1000 Words Long by Michael Wilson

Why flash fiction? According to the book jacket, "flash fiction is one of the hottest literary trends of the 21st century. Online magazines crave it, mainstream publications such as Esquire, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair publish it, and many other markets and contests seek it."

Why this book? Because the characteristics that make for a good short-short story - brevity, clarity, and punch - are also the characteristics of good writing in any genre.

True to the material, Flash Writing offers brief, clear sections that present guidelines for writing a story 250-1,000 words long. But the skills, exercises, and insights can be applied to any writing, of any length.

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