I read several books on writing last year and have quotes from these scribbled in notebooks and other various places. In all of them, I have found some kind of encouragement (in spite of the inevitably dark humor; most be a writing thing?), as well as helpful suggestions.
The first I read was Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. I’ve had this book for awhile and read bits of it here and there, but when I decided to get serious about writing again, I got it out and read straight through. On plot: “Plot grows out of character. If you focus on who the people in your story are, if you sit and write about two people you know and are getting to know better day by day, something is bound to happen.” This resonates with me, not only as a writer, but also as a reader. I have found myself bored in the middle of book, not because of the plot or the story idea, but because I could not care about the characters. Character is king.
Then I finally read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Another one that I started once upon a time, but never finished. Sentences and paragraphs to quote abound but two of my top ones: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” And, “In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring’, the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.” I struggle with adding description to my stories, preferring to “keep the ball rolling”, so this one amuses me.
Next was a book by James Scott Bell, The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises. (Something else I’ve noticed about many of these writing books is their rather wordy titles. Authors trying to get their word-count in? Or, perhaps, writers are just naturally loquacious?) Bell has several books out on writing, and I feel I need to be collecting these.
I reviewed Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers in a previous post. (September) This book is unique as Lerner has been an agent, an editor, and a writer, so she is able to share her perspective from all three of these roles. I shared several quotes from this book already, but here’s another one: “For the writer who truly loves language, a trip to the copy editor is like a week at a spa. You come out looking younger, trimmer, and standing straighter.” Not sure we all feel that way, but I get the point.
My most recent read was by Bret Lott, Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, on Being a Christian. More quotes on the importance of characters rather than lengthy descriptions. “I saw, suddenly and fully, that a story was about the people involved. I saw that embellishment brought to the table an unwanted intruder: the author.”
And: “What I saw in his (Raymond Carver) work was that in my own, I had to be the last one heard from in this pile of words I was arranging, and that humility was the most valuable tool I could have, because the people about whom I wanted to write mattered so very much more than the paltry desires of the writer himself. They mattered so very much more than me. My job was to get out of the way.”
I have several more writing books on my tbr list and just picked up a new one from the library. How about you? Read any good books on writing lately? Which ones have inspired you or just made you laugh? Which would you recommend?