What Are the Top 5 Writing Books in Your Arsenal?

Writers have several important tools they lean on: a great keyboard, a trusted laptop, maybe even a lucky red pen. But there’s usually a stack of dog-eared books, too, that are sitting on the desk — ready to provide tips or inspiration as needed.

Here are the books I grab over and over again. They’ve been my bibles. But, you know, even if you don’t write fiction, I honestly bet you’ll get a kick out of all of these. They’re all great fun:

  1. On Writing, Stephen King: I love this book. The first half is King’s own personal story of how he came to write fiction, but you can jump right into the second half if you want. (That’s where he tells all his secrets.) I absolutely love how he breaks down the drafts, and tells you what to look for in each one. It’s really an outstanding book.
  2. The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes, Cowden, LaFever, Viders: The eight hero archetypes and the eight heroine archetypes are as old as time, and this book explains each one (with modern-day movies and books as examples). This book shows you how each archetype you’ve selected for your story might interact with the others, and what conflicts may arise when you put them in various situations. Fun stuff.
  3. GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict, Debra Dixon: I would never be able to tell a 100,000-word story if I hadn’t read this book. Dixon really breaks it down: how every character needs an external goal, motivation and conflict, as well as an inner one. She shows how they criss-cross, meet, and make for fabulous plots. Continue reading

The Influence of Teachers: The Story of Mrs. Booth

When I was in first grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. Booth. She was an outrageously hip product of the early ‘70s – very hippie-esque, with long flowing skirts and sandals, uber-cool Afro-styled hair, and enormous hoop earrings. Most days she wore some kind of beaded necklace or bracelet that always made me think of macramé.

Mrs. Booth took the entire first grade on a field trip once, to a local beachside community. To be honest, I can’t remember the original purpose of the field trip. There must have been some sort of educational relevancy. (… Or … I don’t know, maybe not. This was the ‘70s, afterall.) But mostly I remember running across the sand with 25 other first graders, squealing with delight when the Pacific hit our toes, and our shoes becoming a tangled mess of 50 mismatched sneakers back on the beach with the adults. I held hands with a girl named Robin, who was my bus partner, and drank soda for the first time out of a can with a straw. I remember there being something to do with a firefighting boat that patrolled the harbor – I think we got a little tour of how it worked, or something. But that was neither here nor there — the real highlight of the trip, at least in my mind, was Mrs. Booth’s sailboat, which she lived on.

Long before the day of law suits and fine-print permission slips, I guess it was okay for teachers to be a little more personal about field trips, and I remember Mrs. Booth letting us all funnel single-file into her boat.  Continue reading

Friends’ and Family’s Blogs …

Okay, so my blogroll is really shaping up now. It’s looking more like my Google reader, showing what I read every day.

Here are a few more. These are more personal – family and friends, and friends I’ve just met through blogging. But some good talent here, and mighty fine people. …

Know the Score — This is my son, so I might be a little biased, but I think he’s awesomely terrific. (!!!) I don’t think you’d ever guess it was a 15-year-old writing this (except that I just told you). Tell me what you think. He’s covering sports, but he doesn’t want to cover any specific team or talk too technically about specific games – he just likes to “talk sports” in general: trends, theories, etc. He has posts here about how important numbers are for your jersey, the Top 10 sports movies of all time, Michael Phelps and how his “fall” might affect teens, the death of Nick Adenhart, etc. My son wants to be a sports writer someday, so I think he’s on the right path. : )

QuinnanopolisBill Q. is a commenter on my blog, and a friend of mine from the newspaper days. I always enjoyed his writing. He keeps a blog about politics, writing, religion, running – you name it. He’s also a stay-at-home dad with four children, which you would think would give him fodder for at least four additional blogs! Anyway, Bill is always smart and always presents himself so clearly. His last two posts were “Another One Bites the Dust,” about how sad it is to see stores closing, and “Random Notes to Self After First Marathon” – very cool! Continue reading

Blogs That Are So Well Written They Make Me Jealous

Okay, here’s our next installment of the “New and Improved” blogroll …

Some blogs  I just read every day because the bloggers are amazing writers, and they make me a little jealous with their unique twists on the ordinary. Here are some of my faves:

Sheye Rosemeyer — Sometimes she makes me cry; sometimes she makes me laugh. And all of Australian Sheye Rosemeyer’s photographs stun me. Her tale of her daughter’s death is so sad it makes my heart hurt, but I love the way she shares the “missing” with us in a way that’s so honest and loving. I also love the way she enjoys her three small children and shows us to celebrate every day of our children’s lives. … Oh, and did I mention the stunning photos? Stunning, stunning, stunning …

The Fabulous Geezersisters’ Weblog — Ruth Pennebaker describes herself as a “woman old enough to call herself ‘fabulous,’” who writes about “families, politics, marriage, friendships, feminism, aging and whatever else occurs to her.” Her observations of life around her – and how inane and ridiculous it can be – always make me smile. I’m  betting she was a columnist somewhere – she has that “newspaper style” I love. Continue reading

Every Writer’s Nightmare: FILE NOT FOUND

computer-crashYou say it’s not going to be you. You put your manuscript on a flash drive; you diligently back it up; you take care not to have only one copy. You know there are such things as fires, floods, and crashed computers – you’re smart. You take precautions.

But then … it happens.

Backing up a manuscript is sort of like the good behavior you exhibit after getting a speeding ticket. Right after the ticket, you’re careful. You say you’re never going to do it again, and you drive around with extreme caution – for years and years, even. But then you start going a little faster. And a little faster. And faster still. You forget the danger. You forget the ticket. And then you see the lights flashing in the rear-view mirror again. …

The lights flashed for me again recently. I had spent a whole day making changes to my manuscript: it was one of those thrilling days where I had no obligations, nothing to do but write. In fact, I told my husband I wasn’t getting out of my pajamas unless absolutely necessary. I planned to spend the entire day with the laptop, making changes to my manuscript that were long overdue. I had thought them through during vacation and was eager to get started. It was a sweeping change – involving changing a character and her motivations – and I had numerous notes and several snippets of dialogue written in my head. It was all concentrated into one area – Act III (for me, about ten chapters, all in one file, where all the changes take place for the character’s arcs). It was a glorious day – I worked from morning until late in the afternoon, tweaking and polishing. I wrote for hours, excitedly telling my husband how much better this book was going to be. I went into my seventh hour. I was on fire. Continue reading

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