Recently, a lot of folks have asked me if I have a writing mentor or coach. The answer is I don't have one...I have many! The moment I realized that this whole writing a novel thing was actually happening, I immediately started reading about writing. I had not studied creative writing since college, and although my career has kept me writing, technical writing, workshop content, and business communication aren't the same as fiction.
There are hundreds of good books about writing. The six featured in this blog post are the ones that have made the biggest impact on my life as a writer to date and on this project in particular. I had read some of these titles before and if you may have as well. I highly recommend rereading them. What a difference it makes to digest them when you have a real writing project in progress!
Last summer, Elizabeth Inniss-Brown recommended the book Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody to our Novel In Progress intensive at the Green Mountain Writers Conference. Having spent seven years of my early adult life as a technical writer, this book tapped into skills I had never thought about applying to my novel. Author Jessica Brody describes writers falling into two categories: plotters, who enjoy outlining the plot of their stories and pansters, who write by the seat of their pants.
At the time I read Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, I had only written six or seven chapters of my book. The thought of writing 80,000 or 90,000 words was daunting. Then I realized I had already written some very long and complicated stories—they were just stories about how to use computer software!
Drawing on my experience as a technical writer, the thought of outlining the entire project made complete sense to me. I created a Google Sheet using Brody's "beat sheet" guidelines. That spreadsheet set me on the path to completing my novel. That's not to say that my characters didn't drive the plot from that point forward. Trust me, I had several characters who made sure there were some significant changes to my original outline, but the outline gave me the confidence that I would see this story through to the end.
When I was struggling to get back into the writing groove after the holidays, I read Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life. This is a lovely book and I highly recommend it. Some of her suggestions about writing handwritten notes to other authors feel a little dated in today's digital world, but it did inspire me to fill my personal Instagram feed with posts from authors I admire, literary agents, and publishers. I interact with people in the industry every day via Instagram and have had some wonderful exchanges. The goal is to be an active member of the industry. If you want to be a writer, act like one!
The biggest impact the book had on my novel, however, was its clear imperative that you must make the commitment to write 1,000 words a day a minimum of five days a week. That was a game-changer for me and absolutely one of the reasons I finished my first draft.
Yeah, and about that first draft, no one encourages you to just get out of your own way and finish your sh*tty first draft more than Anne Lamott. Her book Bird by Bird is one of my all-time favorites. Rereading it during self-quarantine this March was both the comic relief and the kick in the pants I needed to keep going. If you have never read it, get it immediately. You will laugh out loud and learn at the same time.
Next, I dove into The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. I almost wish I had read this book earlier in the process as I think I would have freed me up to write straight from my gut, even it scared me to death.
Most recently, I reread On Writing by Stephen King. Again, if you've never read this book, find it immediately. It's part memoir, part writing guide. I consumed the entire book last Wednesday. I couldn't put it down. It had so much more to offer me this time around. It doesn't matter what genre your writing falls into, this book has something for everyone. After reading it again, I am excited to enter the next phase of my project which is the rewrite and the second draft!
Of course, the go-to book for all writing remains The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I highly recommend the illustrated version if you can find it. This little book is witty, concise, and spot-on. It is a permanent fixture on my desk and will be getting a workout during the next few months as I move into second draft mode.
That's my reading on writing list. I'd love to hear from you about your favorite books on the craft. Let me know.