You’ve made good on your decision to become a writer and you’ve been busy, scribbling/typing away. The ideas came thick and fast, and then…
You stalled with no real notion of where to go from here. So you read over what you have produced so far, hoping this will help you get a gist of what you originally wanted to say. What you read horrifies you; repetitive and unoriginal, everything you planned on not being.
So you spend your writing time surfing the net, doing chores, or just vegetating in front of the t.v. instead. In other words you’ve fallen into a rut. One you have no idea of how to get out of. Perhaps you’re secretly glad, it was a lot harder than you ever imagined. But what if you’re not, what if while you were caught up in all that creativity, you discovered a zest and passion you’ve perviously never known? And you desperately want it back, but it’s a foreign country, one in which you have no passport for or so it seems.
All is not lost, it just, foolishly you started out without a map, and now you have to start over, find your way back to that mine of creativity you momentarily tapped into. It’s still there, now it’s about finding it again.
What you discovered in that moment is possible latent talent, but talent without discipline is unfocused and unruly. If it remains undeveloped it remains undernourished. No quarterback or violinist is born, if you catch the drift.
Places to begin are classes, groups, books and magazines. But what classes, groups or books?
There are reasons to consider all of them, and each will give you something, be it discipline, information, challenges, support or companionship. But today I’d like to consider books.
Why? Because books give you the freedom of flexibility, and a good writers’ manual or guide can be a treasure trove of information without breaking the bank.
Magazines are useful too, but I find books give you more, and all in one place and in proper chronological order. I think magazines are more about the ongoing activities of the writers’ community, i.e. competitions, legal tidbits, what’s happening in the publishing world, and how this affects you, etc. Very useful once you’ve found your feet and you want to learn more about the everyday reality and ‘politics’ of being a member of the writing community.
The books below are a mere few among thousands, if not millions of guides out there. Not all are created equal, but many can help you breakthrough whatever blocks you have or will encounter. These four have worked for me every time, as each tap into something unique, without wandering away from the central tenets of creative writing; the importance of language, reading and practice.
’Reading like a Writer: A guide for people who love books and for people who want to write them’ by Francine Prose.
This book starts off with a brief introduction into who Francine Prose is, briefly touching upon her own experiences as student/novice writer and why she’s chosen to write this book.
… To help the passionate reader, and would-be writer understand how a writer reads.
She explains that in order to become a skilled writer you must first learn to close read, to pay attention to the words and how to utilise literature to better understand what constitutes good writing.
Every writer knows that, ultimately we learn to write through practice, hard work, by repeated trial and error, success and failure. From the books we admire.
Prose covers all the major areas; sentences, paragraphs, narration, character and dialogue. She also provides a decent reading list too.
‘On Writing’ by Stephen King.
This book is part memoir, part writer’s guide, ad all the better for it. King explains he wrote this book primarily to answer the question that is never asked of popular authors, “Why do they write?”
The language… The passionate love and care of the art and craft of telling stories.
The nature of his memoir not only reflects on his early experiences but how they sharped him as a writer. This gives you some intriguing insights into Stephen King, the man.
He also discusses at length the craft and building blocks of taking raw talent and honing it into a constructive and expressive art form of telling stories.
In the tool box is language, grammar, verbs and how practice is the key to unlocking and accessing your muse. A fact often overlooked by, well everyone.
King also provides an extensive reading list.
The next two books differ from the pervious two in how they are designed to help the rookie writer i.e. writers’ classes/workshops in book form.
These writers’ manuals cover all the necessary nuts and bolts required to help transform the novice into professional level writer, including exercises to put into practice the fundamentals covered.
’Gotham Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction’ Edited by Alexander Steele.
This is a clear, concise and user-friendly book that actively encourages you to engage with the craft of writing, providing you with all the basics to build upon.
You shouldn’t just read your way through this book, but write your way through it too.
Each chapter is written by a writer who have taught at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. In each chapter different aspects of the writing craft is examined, the exercises help you understand how they function in practice.
The book also has a copy of Raymond Carver’s ‘The Cathedral’. To be used in conjunction with the writers’ manual.
‘Steering the Craft’ by Ursula le Guin.
This book came out of a workshop le Guin gave in 1996. Throughout her career she has given many talks and workshops, and these experiences inform the dynamics of this book.
Like Gotham, she covers narration, the writer’s voice, POV, but she also goes over punctuation, syntax, adjective and adverbs.
This book however is designed with a more experienced writer in mind. Whereas the Gotham Writers’ Workshop is for the absolute beginner.
I suggest these books because I have used them myself. I know as a writer, my learning will never truly end, and that there will always be new ways to tackle old problems and challenges.
No matter how determined and skilled you are, there will be times when you need a helping hand. To be guided or inspired. Hopefully these books can be a starting point in your own journey as a writer. Perhaps you are a member of the profession and just want some suggestions to liven up your own practice.