Write, Read, Repeat

You learn the funniest things on Twitter. Like ... spacesuits for cows, or #SharkWeek, or that those backpack purses are still considered fashionable (who knew?). My favorite stuff, of course, is about writing. Recently, an intern at a literary agency tweeted this:

So people who want a publishing industry professional to take them seriously tell that same professional that everything she and her colleagues work on is flawed?

Ok, we're all flawed. But let's set that aside for a moment. What these queriers are really saying is that they haven't read much recently, so they don't know how awesome the literature out there is. (There's even a psychological phenomenon where the less-informed rate their own abilities more highly. Now that's enough to give you anxiety insomnia about your own skills for nights on end.)

And the literature out there is awesome. It's flawed (publishing is a human enterprise, after all), and it's missing a lot of stories. But that just means there's more room for more stories, like yours! There always will be.

Therefore, the first step in sharing your story is seeing, really, how it fits in with the thousands (millions?) of amazing stories already out there. Which means reading. Lots.

But you already do that. You read fiction in your genre, and out of it. How do you improve your writing beyond that?

I resisted picking up books about writing for a long time, because I was afraid they would overly influence me. (I'm very susceptible to suggestion.) That may have been right at the beginning, but eventually I needed help. So I turned to craft books, and fell head over heels in love.

These are my favorites. My PitchWars mentee is probably going to have some assigned reading, depending on what issues we need to tackle together. (Not a whole book, I promise! Maybe I promise.) But I figured I'd post this publicly, so folks can read along or pick up some pointers.

  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont. You can't do better than this funny, sensitive book about the emotional trials of living a writer's life. Required reading for keeping your sanity afloat.
  • Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. This is a paean to fiction, and it's impossible to come away from the book without a deep appreciation for fiction and a profound sense of humility. Which is really useful, actually.
  • Story by Robert McKee. I struggle with plot. I'm not a natural storyteller. Reading this book -- which is aimed at screenplay writers but is applicable to all -- was a huge game-changer. I can't recommend it highly enough.
  • Write Away by Elizabeth George.  Similarly, this book is a pretty practical guide to the nuts and bolts of writing fiction, following Ms. George's own model. She has great advice for those who struggle with character.
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. Because punctuation makes communication easier. Really. (And Truss is hilarious.)

I think that's enough for now. Maybe we'll touch on some more specific topics as I read queries and sample pages.