Craft books

Apparently there are some writers out there who don’t read. They write. Of course they do. All the time. They work really hard on their writing.

But. They. Don’t. Read.

Jack Nicholsom

I have strong feelings about this but there’s no point going into all that. I would just sound like a judgmental old lady, sitting on my porch with a scowl and a corn cob pipe and yelling at elementary school kids to do something useful with their lives. After all, who am I to say what the best path is for any other writer?

I do believe there’s a point of intersection between the readers and non readers, and that is craft books. It seems to me that both writers who read and writers who don’t read (buckets of tears, the magician’s apprentice in Fantasia amount of tears) do tend to read writing craft books. Most of them are structured so that you don’t have to start from page one and go straight through to page nine hundred and fifty three. They can be perused. Dipped into. And the best of them are fun to read.

Here’s a selection of my favorites, that I would recommend to all:

Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott A classic in inspiration. Part memoir, part encouragement to start with a shitty first draft and keep going little by little, Anne Lamott’s warm encouragement is like a mug of hot chocolate for your writing soul.

On Writing – Stephen King This is the other big one that nearly everyone recommends. For a reason! It is an easy and compelling read, full of straight-talking solid advice.

Wonderbook – Jeff Vandermeer One to purchase for your home library if you can afford it. This has simply gorgeous full color illustrations. Fun diagrams of tension and maps about plot and tables of writing styles. My favorite part of it are the interviews and essays by other authors, such as Lev Grossman’s essay about his long road to publishing the Magicians and GRR Martin discussing his disregard of magic systems. This book taught me a lot about first lines, opening scenes, how to cut scenes, end scenes and so much more.

John Truby’s Anatomy of a Story This book changed my life. It is more about screenwriting and uses old-fashioned examples of great screenplays (Casablanca, the Godfather) but this book explained character weakness and need to me finally and thoroughly and I got it and my story telling ability rocketed into the stratosphere.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print A nice change. This is an editing book by editors. Chock full of excellent advice and examples. Way better than simplistic writing and editing tips posted on twitter.

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Leveling up

Image result for scott pilgrim level up

Over the summer I leveled up. I completed and heavily revised my second book, which was an adult science fiction novel, and sent it out to agents. Here are my stats for my first and second books as of now:

First book
MG Fantasy
Queries – 18
Partial requests – 1
Full requests – 0
(1 full and 1 partial during pitchwars)

Second book
Adult Science Fiction
Queries – 48
Partial requests – 8
Full requests – 5
(1 partial during pitchwars)

Yes, I queried more with my second book but I saw a big difference in how it was received compared to my first, and that was encouraging. My first book had some charming characters and funny dialogue, but the plot was all over the place and my characters’ goals were weak and sludgy. Also it was multi pov which is usually a no in middle grade. My second book had an interesting premise, a clear plot, and the focus of a single first person pov.

While revising my second novel, my understanding of structure, character arcs, goals, weakness, need, etc, grew by leaps and bounds. I could feel myself leveling up. I’m not sure what will happen with this second book. It has some life yet, but mentally I’ve locked it away in a drawer and stopped checking my email for news.

In the meantime, I started a new project. It feels amazing to begin on such a strong foundation, with all my hard-won writing upgrades, confidence and deeper knowledge. So here’s the thing. If I hadn’t written those first two books, I would not be the writer I am now. Sure it was hard to let those early books go (at least for now), and the devil on my shoulder sometimes whispers believable little lies, such as: “three years of work, and you’ve got nothing to show for it.”

It sounds like a platitude, but I wouldn’t trade that growth for anything. My current WIP is energizing. I hope you too, get inspiration and energy seeing your development as a writer, even if success remains elusive as the Grail–for the time being 😉

You’ve taken a hit. What’s next?

rocky.2

Remember how Sylvester Stallone wrote the screen play for Rocky in twenty hours? That’s right, twenty hours. The only thing I have to say is, that lucky bastard. The only other thing I have to say is, this is not usually how these things work.

Here’s how writing really works:

The more you learn, the more you learn you have to learn.

So you take a lot of hits in the writing business, as you do in every business except the sleeping business. Only there, in that duvet-sky world, may you find absolute peace. But that world is fleeting and then it’s back to the cold hard computer with its unread, bold rejection email (s) waiting to stab out your eyes with its two dagger-like opening words: Dear Author. You don’t bother reading the rest of the words which most likely say the same blah blah thank you blah blah keep it up blah blah blaaaaahhhh…

There comes a point where you have had enough. You cannot take one more hit. Enough is enough. So what next? What is the next phase after a lot, and I mean a lot, of rejection? This phase is Decision Time. You have a choice, as you always do, and the time has come to make it. Do you keep working on this project?

Or do you drop it?

I’m not saying give up writing. I would never say give up writing. I would only ever say never–never give up writing! But do some deep thinking, some considering. Because maybe this project you’ve been working on isn’t the best. Or the time for it is not now. Maybe it just needs too much work. Maybe you don’t know how to solve it. Yet.

I recently came to this realization myself and, I have to admit, I may have plummeted into an abyss of self hatred and giving up on this writing venture. When I crawled back out of the abyss, I was a different person. Hope had left town. But that’s ok. Hope is not that useful. It’s a dream. I don’t want dreams and fantasies. I want realities. I want a book that I can hold in my hands. I don’t want flimsy hope. I want meaty, earthy, certainty. Yes, my belief and confidence in myself had taken a grievous, bloody, possibly mortal wound. But the desire to write was still there, intact, unharmed. Strong. I still wanted this. I’m still going to do this.

But it’s decision time for me. Do I get stuck in and overhaul this whole book? Or do I drop it for another project?

As writers say: You have to write the first book just to learn how to do it.

I found this writing excuses episode on revision to be very helpful.

Rejection

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So I finished my novel. I worked on my query. I knew I would be rejected by literary agents. I even knew it wouldn’t feel good. But I wasn’t ready for it to feel so bad.

So very very very bad…

On another note, even as a little kid I didn’t buy it: Hold up, Frodo and Bilbo. You don’t really want to go be the only two hobbits in a land of elves forever (foreverever) in super serious, exclusive elf land. I think you are signing up for an immortality of boringness, yes?