Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Five Fabulous Writing Books to Re-read

There's so much to be said about writing—and much of it has already been said, by wonderful writers. Here is my short list of the best books I've read about writing. Each of these jewels is brimming with advice and instruction, but each one is different, so there's something here for every aspiring writing.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is the first book I refer to new-to-the-craft writers. Her clear and practical "way" is a great method for kick-starting your writing at any stage, but is ideal for those who've not yet settled into their writing rhythm—those who want to write, but who just haven't yet made it a part of their life. I would suggest that all new writers read this book, preferably in conjunction with Natalie Goldberg's book below. Cameron's process is also effective for experienced writers who are struggling to birth a new work, and can't seem to get the words flowing.
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard inspires me each time I dip into it. Dillard is one of the best non-fiction writers ever and you'll know why when you read this slim book—it carries the weight of years of deep knowledge. Like her masterpiece, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, her book on writing resonates with images of the natural world, and is one you'll want to own. Though she can be a bit tough about what is required to pare your prose down to its essence, it is tough love, not strictness for the sake of itself.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. You've probably heard of him, so I'll say no more about his credentials. The thing is—no matter if you like and read his fiction or not—the man can really write, and he also writes quite well about "the craft" of writing, as he calls it. And he's funny. Enough said.
Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on the Writing Life by Anne Lamott. This is Lamott at her best—and her best is very good indeed. For those who like a little bit of philosophy and theology with their writing instructions, this is the book for you. In this book, she writes: “I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer.” But she also includes some very funny lines that will inspire you to quote them again and again—like this one: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
And, last but certainly not least, is Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. Yes, she has words of wisdom, and yes, she has tips to offer, but the reason this book changed my life (yes, it really did!) wasn't because of all that, so much as her inspirational style. Her voice is the voice of the best friend you can imagine, who will drop everything, anytime, to go with you to a cafe and just write. And listen to your writerly bitching about your story and how it just won't work right, and give you encouragement, and buy you a cup of tea, and keep listening; who offers a shoulder when you need one, and a nudge back toward your work—with a quick word about what she loves about your writing—when that's called for. I love this author and can't recommend her book enough.
Whichever of these books you choose, I hope you'll be inspired to write, and to keep on writing. Remember: "Tell your stories."
hasta pronto! 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Few Words on Favorite Words

We all have favorite words and phrases. As oral communicators, that's fine (until your significant other or close friend finally says that you need to stop saying "like" or "you know"!) As writers, we have to be aware of those pet phrases and try to eliminate a majority of their occurances in our work. If you're lucky, your editor will not only spot the recurring words or phrases, but will help you find ways to work around them, rewrite them, or even delete them.
It's always surprising to see experienced writers, as well as editors, fall prey to this trap. I do it myself, even though I'm aware of my key phrases and words. One of them is "key." Another is "as well as."
I'd suggest that you not try to correct this habit while writing your first draft. Write to your heart's content and don't worry about picking and choosing words while getting your story onto the page. But when you go back over your manuscript, attune your radar to be aware of words that recurr. Especially if the word is an odd one. The word "egregious" doesn't belong in a novel more than once, unless it's used in dialogue to signal a character's persnickety way of speaking.
Obviously, common words can recurr hundreds of times in a manuscript without raising any eyebrows, however, even using a word like "but" too often, especially at the start of a paragraph, will start to annoy readers.
Be glad you have modern software tools like "find" or "search" for seeking out word repetitions in a manuscript. Back in the day, we had no choice but to employ a highlighter pen and a lot of patience.
Something else I'm frequently seeing in manuscripts is the overuse of "thought verbs," like the words "thought" and "remembered." Readers of my blog, and fans of Chuck Palahniuk will have heard this advice before, but you can't hear it often enough: using too many thought verbs is a bad habit that slows down your writing.
If your character is remembering how she and her former flame spent their evenings, you can just write: "The evenings they spent, sitting on that dock..." You don't need to write: "She remembered the evenings they spent..."
Write things a reader can see, in their mind's eye. Remembering isn't visual, or very active. Neither is thinking, or realizing--or, God forbid, contemplating.
Just put us there. Trust us. We'll get it.
There's a place for thought verbs, but we devalue them by overuse. Same with your favorite words. Be ruthless.
Hasta pronto!