Here are my three favorite books on the craft of writing. I love what these writers have to say… and how they think… and the encouragement they offer. Two of these books I first read decades ago…and, just to be sure, I re-read them this year and still love the breathless excitement and the truths they provide.
If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland
APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki
Writing Juvenile Stories and Novels: How to Write and Sell Fiction for Young People by Phyllis A. Whitney
BONUS ROUND. Books on writing are important…BUT, here are my four favorite books on surviving the decision to become a writer. Each of these share something that for many writers will be more important than honing the craft of writing or studying the specific industry know-how. Spoiler Alert: Believe in yourself and your dream…don’t give up on yourself no matter how many times you are rejected…be aware that the road less traveled is frightening but worth the effort. And, please don’t wait for someone else to make your dream happen for you…you just gotta do it yourself.
I must confess, I have never read a book on writing. I have never taken a class. My education came through the school of hard knocks (editors doing the knocking) and osmosis because I am an avid reader.
No, you do not. Likewise, you do not have to write books other people will read and you do not have to create work that is anywhere near commercially viable. Your critique partner is trying to alert you to the alarming way your work is turning out. Your story may ramble and wander about. Your work probably lacks the structure needed to give readers the experience they demand. What can you do? Start by exploring the notion that story structure and formula are not exactly the same thing, and neither are evil. I think formulas can provide an important illumination for your chosen genre. If you are a new writer, following a proven formula can allow you to lean on something that works while you develop your skillsets. Structure is a different kind of thing. It is a design requirement to make sure your work has the scaffolding needed to support a reader. Like an architect designing any building, writers must accept that writing projects require a certain framework to function. So formula is like building a line of cookie cutter houses. Structure is the engineering rules you follow that allows iconic buildings and cookie cutter houses to stand up at all. All to say: listen a little more to the critique partner and explore what you are being told.
The advice about structure that your critique partner is yammering about is a must if you want to be a successful writer.
There are no hard and fast rules in art, but there is a reason why successful novelists pay attention to structure. Think of your manuscript as a maze. It is your job to guide the reader through it to a satisfying conclusion. If you decide to have some fun and lead them down paths that are confusing and unrecognizable, there is a good chance they won’t play your game because you’re making them work too hard. Instead, they will find someone who weaves a structured tale. So, ask yourself what is important: pushing a tried and true envelope for the sake of an artistic fling or gaining a loyal audience?
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