Mood: relaxed

Currently watching/listening to: Live From Abbey Road: Elbow, MGMT, & Alanis Morissette

So, a friend of mine is thinking of writing a fictionalized version of her memoirs. She is already an excellent writer, so I know whatever she writes is going to be good & I look forward to reading it (So, get going!). She asked me if there were any books or other resources I discovered while preparing myself to venture into the novel writing world. I thought I’d share what I told her. Actually, she recommended I share this. I should give credit where it is due.

Writing Books I’ve Liked:

  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: A classic, must read. Helps you approach the idea of writing & make peace with it.
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg: In the same vein as Lamott, this is also a classic. Both Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones are great if you need a little pick-me-up when you’re feeling down about your writing/talent.
  • Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich: A good breakdown of all the elements of fiction–setting, character, plot, pov, voice, dialogue, etc. Includes exercises.
  • Pen on Fire by Barbara De Marco-Barrett: Kind of in the same vein as Lamotte & Goldberg. This book works on the idea that finding time to write can be difficult, but that even with just a little time (15-minutes), you can do something. Includes exercises that help you generate ideas.
  • From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler: This is a little different than something like the Fiction Writer’s Workshop book I mentioned. This is more about tapping into the emotional side to write rather than the intellectual side. It also emphasizes the idea of letting your mind wander. I really think I want to reread this before I start on my second draft.
  • Now Write! Ficition Writing Exercises From Today’s Best Writers & Teachers edtied by Sherry Ellis: I’ve mentioned this book before and how much I like its exercises. It’s broken up into sections–plot, setting, character, pov, etc. And within that, different writers/instructors layout an exercise that they like. The writers included are more current I suppose (Steve Almond, Amy Bloom, Alison Laurie). Fiction Writer’s Workshop is kind of a beast to get through, but Now Write! is good if you’re just looking for a quick exercise on a certain facet of writing. There’s no long lecture. I’ve used a lot of the exercises when I’ve felt like I didn’t know a character well enough or was trying to deal with my POV issues. I constantly go back to this book.
  • Creating Fiction edited by Julie Checkoway: This one was the class text for a writing class I took earlier this summer. It’s another anthology of different writers writing on different aspects of fiction. It includes exercises. Kind of a longer version of Now Write!

Some Books I’ve Heard Good Things About, But Haven’t Quite Gotten To Yet:

  • Writing Fiction by the Gotham Writer’s Workshop: Other writing students/friends I know have liked it. I think it’s fairly similar to the Fiction Writer’s Workshop. I think that’s the main reason I haven’t gotten to it yet.
  • Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande: I just picked this book up a couple days ago. It was recommended by an authors’ panel I went to when they were asked, “What writing book do you recommend?” Two of them mentioned this one.
  • On Writing by Stephen King: I can’t believe I still haven’t read this. Bad I know. Every instructor I’ve ever had mentions this book. And I know I need to read it at some point. It’s supposed to be really good. It’s a general writing book, not at all focused on horror as you’d expect.
  • Oh, and if anyone tells you to check out John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction run away. I’ve had to read sections for classes and it’s a bitch to get through. The instructor who assigned the sections said she didn’t want to assign the book because even she hadn’t enjoyed the experience of reading it. It’s just really dense. So, unless you want to go high-literary, skip it. Writing, and learning about it, should be fun! Gardner takes the fun out of it in my opinion.

The best thing about any writing book is the exercises. They are good when you feel stuck. They just get you thinking and allow you the opportunity to approach the problem from a new perspective. After you’ve read a few, you’re going to start noticing that they get repetitive. I definitely went on a reading binge when I first got the idea to write again, but really once I got focused this past year with writing my “novel” (yes, I have trouble actually saying the word) and not just planning it, I kind of cast the books aside. But I do still go back when I’m stuck as I said.

Writing Classes:

When I set out to start writing fiction again for the first time in a decade, I decided to take a few writing classes. I don’t think it’s necessary to take writing classes; there are plenty of authors out there who have written great books and never taken a creative writing class. But for me, taking them was more about immersing myself in a writing environment. Writing is a lonely endeavor. Unless you’re co-authoring a piece, it’s just going to be you, your computer, & the voices in your head (and yes, they are okay & it’s all right if you talk back to them–just not in public). While it was good to learn the mechanics–ways to generate story ideas, developing characters, moving a plot forward, the use of setting and dialogue, and the differences & uses of point-of-view; what I really took away from these classes was the interaction with other novice writers. I loved the workshop experience. Yes, my flaws were pointed out to me, but I also got to hear what I did right and what I did better than I thought I did. Also, it was just a great environment to hash out problems & ideas. Also workshopping other writers’ pieces can help you see things in your own work even while your critiquing theirs. Admittedly, not all classes & workshop experiences will be great. I’ve had those too. But I like to believe that every one will have an opportunity to be with a good group of writers and have a great workshop experience at some point, and more often than not. Another plus is having the chance to work with instructors who are published writers themselves. I’ve been fortunate to have had good instructors even if some of the classes have been less than what I’d hoped for. And, in the interest of honesty, classes give you an opportunity to find out if you are fooling yourself & full of complete shit or if you have something that you really should pursue…not that I need validation from others, but it’s always nice!

I’ve taken classes through the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program. I’ve liked the classes I’ve taken there and the quality of instructors I’ve had has been very good. Of course, some classes were better than others, but still, I like their program. I have done both traditional in-class classes & online classes. I have mixed feelings about the online classes. It’s definitely a good option if you have no other option and want to take a writing class. Also, there is the plus of anonymity when you’re first presenting your writing for others to read & critique, which can definitely be a daunting experience. The online environment takes some of the pressure off. On the downside, I feel like the give-and-take of the workshop experience is lacking in an online class. I think that at least once, every writer should have the in-person workshop experience.

The Gotham Writers’ Workshop was also recommended to me. I’ve heard good things about it. Seeing as I’m in LA & not NY, and was looking for in-class instruction, I opted to stick close to home with UCLA. But, Gotham does offer online if you’re not close by. I might still check it out at some point.

For now, I have decided to lay off the classes. If you were here for some of my posts this past spring, you heard my laments about how my writing class got in the way of me working on this WIP. I’ve decided that I just need to focus on my own project. But I think I will always return for another class. I just like the learning environment. I’ve given thought to pursuing a MFA, but for me, I think that is off in the future. I’m not ready to go back to school again any time soon. And for now, I want to see what I can do on my own.

Magazines:

The following are good for tips, interviews with writers, and contests & publications. They also do a fairly good job of educating their readers on the business side of writing/publishing, which is good to have should anything ever come of your work.

National Novel Writing Month:

Come November, if you’re looking for a good kick in the butt to do 50,000 words, there is National Novel Writing Month. Mind you, it’s 50K of crap. It’s just about turning off your internal editor, getting past any writer’s block, and spewing out words. For the most part you come out with complete shit. But, I think it’s good for helping you just get it out. You’re definitely going to have to go back and look at what you’ve done, if you can stomach it. I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo the last 3-years. While those 3 drafts each played a role in my the development of my current story, I have never been able to go back and read them through from start to finish. I know their crap. But just getting those words out helped me develop the story I now am working on. If you do go back and read what you wrote after November, there might be some good sentences that came out of nowhere, but, in all honesty, the rest will probably be crap & you should hide it in a folder on your hard drive that you will never open again. (By the way, NEVER delete anything you write! Even if you find that it’s not working or just sucks and abandon it, you never know what might happen in the future.) What you get out of NaNoWriMo is something to work with for a rewrite or next draft. Also, the message boards can be kind of helpful. Also, during November, people in different regions get together and have “write-outs” where you all bring your laptop and sit and write for a couple hours to get your daily word count in (which to do 50k in 30-days, comes to 1667 words a day–yes, the number is burned in my memory). Actually, I met my current writing group during one of those write-outs.

What Else…

The best (& most repetitive) advice I’ve ever received: just write. Get it out. Don’t worry about being good on your first draft. Because until you write “something”, you’re not going to have anything. Also, just study the novels or short stories you like. Look at how the plot progresses, how the author moved from one incident to another, from one time frame to another, how he/she started a chapter & got you the reader into the setting. In other words, read. Which I think I’ll go do now.

Later.

* The perfectionist in me is going crazy because I can’t figure out how to make all the links in this post the same font & style–what’s up with the purple/underlining on some and the gray highlighting on the others? That’s not my doing. And I can’t figure out how to change the color from purple to something else. Urgh!

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