Inspiration: Books to Help You Write Your Own

August 10th, 2011

the idea!At some point in any writer’s life—whether you are starting out or need a dose of inspiration—a craft book on writing can be useful and helpful. A so-called “craft book” is sort of a writing class and writing companion gathered between two covers. There are several such books on my bookshelf that I turn to time and again, and some that I keep within reach right on my desk. They are great to keep you going … along with a bottomless coffee pot.

Writing can be lonely, and in an era obsessed with “social media” in which we’re expected to fill every waking moment with emails, text messages, tweets and Facebook updates, you can’t help but wonder if there’s something wrong with wanting to be left alone to write something that’s a bit more involved and less instantaneous. On the pages of these books you’ll be reassured that you aren’t the only one trying to put words on paper (or on the screen). Someone has done this before you, and done it well, and they’re willing to share what they’ve learned.

Craft books are something I plan to mention during my upcoming talk, “How to Get Started Writing Your Story (And Publishing Your Work) at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22 at the Chesapeake City Branch Library. (Hope to see you there!) Meanwhile, I thought I would share some of my favorite craft books and how—and why—they have been helpful to me.

How to Write Magical Words and
This wonderful book is a compilation of the blog kept by several accomplished fantasy writers, including Faith Hunter, David B. Coe, Misty Massey, A.J. Hartley and C.E. Murphy. Though geared toward fantasy writing, it’s chock full of practical tips from working writers dealing with everything from getting unstuck, to making a living, to rewrites, to marketing, to coming up with ideas. You can easily visit the blog online, but the book (available in print and as a digital book for your Kindle or Nook) is a resource you will turn to again and again.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (available through InterLibrary Loan)
I came across this book several years ago and it remains one of my perennial favorites. Don’t be scared off by the commercial nature of the title, because this is actually a very practical book that shares first-hand accounts of how several well-known authors struggled with concepts or rewrites until they had a good (and sometimes bestselling) manuscript. Examples of good writing, characterization, etc., are pulled right from the pages of popular recent novels and you will be introduced to some writers you might not have known about, but whose work sells well for a reason.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Known for his historical novels, Pressfield’s short and rather “new age” books will get you inspired to step off your creative project, whether it’s writing or getting in shape or launching a business. He writes from the experience of someone who struggled for many years before finding success through hard work. I keep this one on my desk.

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman (available through InterLibrary Loan)
You can probably guess from the title that this book is all about polishing your manuscript. Have you got a good hook? Here are practical tips on keeping your manuscript in front of editors and readers.

On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
I would call this book a “classic” and useful to anyone doing just about any kind of writing for work or school. There is a lot of sound, traditional advice in this book. Best of all, it’s available on the shelves of your local library.

Those are ones I keep on my shelf. Here are a few other craft books available from the library.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
A Handbook for Teens Who Like to Write by Victoria Hanley
Beginnings, Middles, and Ends by Nancy Kress
Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hunt

How do YOU get inspired to write?

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First Lines: How to get started writing your story (and publishing your work)

March 9th, 2011


In this upcoming talk on March 16 at the Elkton Central Library, I’ll be sharing some tips on the writing process and the “how-to” part of the publishing business. Everyone generally has questions about finding an agent or how big of an advance check you should expect for that first novel. (Hint: unless your name is Stephanie Meyer, don’t quit your day job!) But as a writer, what interests me more and more these days is the creative process. Where do our stories come from, and how do we put them into words?

Let’s face it, being a writer requires more than a little inspiration. Even professional writers need a healthy dose of the I-word now and then to keep their creativity on track.   When it comes to success, we know all about that 99 percent of perspiration. It’s the 1 percent of inspiration that needs constant renewing.

These days, in these times, it’s not always easy to find the hours off or the money for workshops, conferences or graduate programs that are the best source of inspiration for writers. Yet there are other ways of getting the creative juices flowing.

Inspiration doesn’t have to cost much and you won’t have to go farther than your favorite chair — or maybe your library or your bookstore. To give your creative writing a jolt, you just need to be, well, creative.

What you need is a “Writer’s Stay-cation.”

Can’t afford that writer’s workshop in Maui? Then set aside a weekend, a day—or even a single afternoon—for the writer’s version of the “stay-cation.” Call in sick, get mom or the hubby to take the kids off your hands, and whatever you do, for God’s sake stay away from Facebook!

And don’t forget snacks.  Snacks are very important! Hungry people can’t be expected to think straight. Get a pot of coffee or tea going while you’re at it. Caffeine clears the mind.

Use this hard-won time to reconnect with your reasons for writing. How? Follow this three-step process. Let’s get started …

Read. I know, I know. You’re supposed to be writing! But this writer’s stay-cation is about inspiration, not production. So head to your bookshelves, or the ones at the library.

I’ve recently heard this called “booking,” and it’s something I’ve been doing for years. Here’s how it works. We all have shelves filled with our favorite books. We saved them for a reason, but we don’t always have time to revisit them. In booking, you make time. First, pour coffee. Then poke around your bookshelves. Take down that volume of poetry or that mystery novel, and “dip” into it. No, that doesn’t mean reading the whole book from the very first page. No time for that! But revisit that scene you loved, or that bit of description, or just flip open the book and start reading at any point. You’ll soon remember why you saved this book, and why it’s so easy to get reacquainted, as if with an old friend.

Think. I don’t know about you, but I always seem to think best when my hands (or feet) are busy doing something else. Ideas like to simmer, like soup on the back burner. So go for a run or walk, stain the deck, weed the garden, fish, bake cookies. Do something that is the opposite of mentally stimulating. But don’t spend that time plugged into an iPod or strategizing your next shopping trip to Wal-Mart or worrying about how you’re going to get your daughter to eat broccoli. Think about your novel, your poem … the story you want to tell. In other words, give your hands and/or feet something to do, and your brain tends to do a good job of simmering all on its own.

Write. You’ve been reading. You’ve been thinking. It’s all good. Now get out a pen and paper—not your MacBook, lovely machine that it is—and write something. Come up with 10 first lines for a short story/novel/memoir. Write a rhyming couplet in iambic pentameter. Sketch a character. Write down your thoughts on your son’s birth or your first kiss. What did the joy of holding little Joey that first time feel like? How did Susie Hunter’s lips taste? Describe that experience as best you can.

Congratulations. You are putting words on paper. You are writing. It’s not always easy, but sometimes the hardest part is simply getting started, and that’s what an inspirational “Writer’s Stay-cation” is all about.

What do you do to get inspired?

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