I’ll cut to the chase.
I don’t need any more touchy-feely books about writing littering my bookshelf. I don’t need deep and meaningful prose compelling me to look within my ragged soul for answers to my mangled words. Give me a break.
I won’t name names – you know the type of book I’m talking about. They offer sympathy and stir our hearts into action. They help us ‘resolve to write’. Big deal. I already have resolved to write.
And then what?
Oh. I guess we go to the next category of books that are really beginning to bug me: the books that promise a finished first draft in the time it takes to walk the dog, or a publishing deal just by following three simple rules. You know the type. They promise things that simply aren’t humanly possible if you:
a. Work full-time and write when you can – like when you’re waiting for a light to turn green
b. Have children
c. Have a life (at this point I’ve happily handed a good potion of my life to writing – but I’m simply not willing to give up So You Think You Can Dance and Top Chef. Does that make me a bad person?)
I’m willing to guess that a majority of writers are like me. We went to college but our major was far removed from creative writing (in my case, Studio Art and Secondary Education). We always wrote but didn’t consider it as an option. We listened to the advice of our elders “Be practical. Make sure you have something to fall back on.” Yeah, right. As if choosing art was practical. My first choice, history, was already taken by every pre-law man on campus (it was 1970’s Nebraska – I was a little intimidated by pre-law men).
My point is this: I didn’t learn how to write. But I always wrote. I wrote long, melodramatic, doom laden stories when I was a child. I always kept a journal. My essays in high school won awards. I even wrote a newspaper column for four years. Yes, I wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. But I didn’t know how. No one corrected my bad habits. Like my over-reliance on sentence fragments and ellipses…
So the books I need are the books that will teach me about plot, structure, characterization. They’ll correct my passive voice. They’ll teach me – once and for all – what the hell a dangling participle is. And dare I say ‘gerund’? Seriously. Who knows what a gerund is? Buehler? Buehler??
Here are the books recommended to me by my mentor:
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway. I’ve mentioned this book in earlier posts. Can’t get enough of it. The chapter on characterization is worth the price of admission.
On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner. Need inspiration? Just a wee drop of ‘touchy-feely’? The forward alone – written by Raymond Carver – made me feel it was possible.
Structuring Your Novel: From Basic Idea to Finished Manuscript by Robert C. Meredith. Remember Dragnet? And Friday’s request for ‘just the facts, ma’am’? Well, that’s what this book is. Clear, succinct, facts on structure, plot and character.
Listen, we all know a book can’t really teach you how to write. Learning how to write – being a writer – runs deeper than that. There is no magic formula for writing the break out novel. Cobbling a first draft together in thirty days means nothing if there’s no point or logic to it.
I write stories (and blog posts) for others to read. It’s as simple as that. I don’t need someone to tell me what I already know – that I love what I do. And I don’t want to measure my success by how quickly I can crank out a first draft.
I just want to write – and I want to write well.