It is week twenty-six of 2019. My question for you this week: How has the writing gone this year? Take a minute to recognize what you’ve achieved during the last six months, even if it is less than you had hoped or planned – especially if it is less than you had hoped or planned. There are twenty-six weeks left in the year. What could you accomplish if you started something today and then spent time on it every week?
I’m taking time this week to recognize what I’ve accomplished in this newsletter over the last six months. Before starting this project, I read craft books and wrote blog posts when I had an unexpected chunk of free time, which wasn’t often. Every year, I told myself I would do more, and every year I did about the same – read a few books, wrote a handful of posts.
This year, I did three things differently: 1) I publicly committed to showing my work; 2) I created time in my schedule for the reading and writing I needed to do; and 3) I made my progress visible for myself by hanging it on the wall near my desk. If you’ve gotten stuck or have stalled out before even starting, consider trying these methods and see if they work for you. (These methods were inspired by Austin Kleon, Ashley Gartland, and Jocelyn K. Glei – check out their work and see if they inspire you too.)
I want to take a moment now to survey what I’ve read over the last six months. I’ve begun mentally organizing writing craft books into three broad categories:
Inspirers. These are books that teach us about creativity or about the habits and mindset of writers. They can also be books that ask what a novel is, like Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. This is the category you turn to when your well is dry and you need inspiration or commiseration from creators who have been in that stuck place and can help you get out.
Systematizers. These are books that analyze story structure or writing methods and provide concrete and specific guidance on how to shape a story or finish a novel. If you need guidance on how to untangle a plot, craft a better character arc, or plot or pants your way to the finish line, these are the books you turn to.
Crafters. These are books that give instruction on the nitty-gritty details of how to revise, how to control point of view and voice, and how to polish sentences. You can use these books to practice your craft or to guide you in adding the finishing touches to a rough draft.
Somewhere around week seventeen, I realized I had been unconsciously (and naively) searching for The One Writing Craft Book to Rule Them All and had to recognize that I wouldn’t find it, although some books fall into multiple categories. The truth is you are going to need different things at different stages in a project. There are, however, books I find myself recommending to clients over and over again:
To learn about character development: Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story (with warnings about her stance on revision and trigger-y comments about food and body issues)
To learn about sentences: Brian Shawver’s The Language of Fiction
I’ll do another round-up post at the end of the year to see if these categories and recommendations change.
Now, let’s take a quick look at what I’ve got planned for the next twenty-six weeks. Next week, I’ll be doing another reflection piece about my approach to reading books like these. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how I manage to read a book a week, and I’ll be sharing my methods and strategies with you.
After that, I’ll dive back into the craft books. I’m particularly excited about a new book from Jane Alison, the wonderfully titled Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative. I’ll also be taking a look at the Art of… series from Graywolf Press. I’m planning on reading Christopher Castellani’s The Art of Perspective: Who Tells the Story but many in the series look promising. I want to read more about different approaches to the writing process, so KM Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel, Dean Wesley Smith’s Writing into the Dark, and James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From the Middle are on the list.
I’d love to hear from you about what you’d like to see me cover in the newsletter. Are there broad topics or areas you want to know more about? Do you have specific titles you’d like to recommend or that you are curious about? Drop me a line and let me know.
Here’s to showing your work, y’all,