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writing guides

Writers: The Answers You’re Looking for Are Not on the Internet

Flying BooksWhenever the tiniest inkling of a question hits me these days, I find myself reaching for my phone to Google the answer. And I’ve noticed it’s gotten worse over the past few years. My instinct to Google has really ramped up since I have a laptop at home, one at the office, and a smartphone always in my pocket. Sometimes I find the answer quickly (How many Academy Awards has Al Pacino won?) and sometimes I have to search deeper and stumble across information I didn’t even know I was looking for (What does “New Thought” mean?).

But sometimes—particularly with the deep questions—I find a lot of hype and noise, and very little meaningful insight. This is the result of living in a society that has, what feels like, unlimited information at its fingertips. But in reality we’re all still human, and humans have limits. We don’t know everything and we can’t know everything, even if the illusion of believing that we do makes us feel safer. Continue Reading

7 Best Writing Guides Ever

SAMSUNGBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Anne Lamott
Lamott reminds us to set realistic goals for our writing (like writing one or two pages before we worry about writing the whole book), and encourages the idea of forming a writing group that can also be an emotional support group. Bird by Bird is a classic for a reason: you come out of it feeling not so alone in this whole writing thing.

Writing Down the Bones
Natalie Goldberg
Goldberg infuses writing method with Zen practice. This is a short little book that you can probably finish in a day or two, but can reference for years after. And if you really dig this guide, you can pick up some of her other books: Old Friend from Far Away is about writing memoir, and Wild Mind is about living the writer’s life.

The War of Art
Steven Pressfield
When I first read the War of Art in 2009 it completely changed my writing life, and I’m not exaggerating. If you have problems with procrastination, perfectionism, fear of failure and self-doubt, this is the guide for you. Pressfield doesn’t sugarcoat his advice, but somehow it doesn’t come out sounding harsh, just inspiring. If you need a serious kick in the pants, get your hands on this guide.

The Elements of Style
William Strunk and E.B. White
It’s the very nice man who wrote Charlotte’s Web! He teamed up with a professor from Cornell to write a kick-ass little guide to using the English language with style and—dare we say—flair. These guys are the Batman and Robin of grammar. Get this guide in your personal library, ASAP.

If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
Brenda Ueland
They broke the mold when they made Brenda Ueland. She’s like the Katharine Hepburn of writers. Totally unconventional, eccentric, high-spirited and truly inspiring. After reading Ueland, you come away feeling like a gushing fountain of creativity, and also like it’s okay to eat ice cream for breakfast. Yeah, she’s that kind of awesome lady.

The Artist’s Way
Julia Cameron
This guide to waking up your creativity requires you put a little elbow grease into it. The book is designed as a 12-week program that includes writing 3 pages every morning and setting aside two hours a week devoted to experiencing and observing. If you’re serious about dissolving your writer’s block, Cameron is the way to go.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Stephen King
This is an excellent book even if you’re not a Stephen King fan. In addition to providing great advice on the nuts-and-bolts of writing (verb choice, character description, etc.), King also wraps up on a really encouraging note. Not only do you feel like it’s possible to write your book, you come away feeling like it’s also possible to actually get published. And that feeling alone is worth a million bucks.

Writing guides are like diet and nutrition. There are a ton of choices out there, but you’re a unique individual and some types of food are going to work better for you than others. Nibble at this and that and see what agrees with you—then try cooking something all on your own.

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Writing Your First Novel? Watch What You Consume.

SAMSUNGIf you’ve never written a novel before, you have no idea what to expect. And really, you have no idea if you can do it. It might seem like a mountain of work, or like something only geniuses can do. Never mind the fact that you are—already—a genius. When you’re starting your first novel it certainly doesn’t seem that way. You’re plagued by doubts and fears, and your story is still only a small creative flame. That flame can grow, and it will grow if you nourish and protect it. The place it’s going to grow is your mind. But in order to make the very best creative soil available to it, you have to watch what you’re putting in the soil.

If you want your creative mind to be nutrient-rich, totally organic, and flooded with sunshine and clean water so that your little flame of a novel can grow, here are the pesticides you need to watch out for:

Negative People
I have a friend who shall remain nameless. She’s a person who I really love, and who is intelligent, funny, and loves me back like a sister. But she’s got a horrible attitude. She always sees the bad side of things, and when an obstacle crops up in her life she always says, “I have the worst luck.” We don’t live very near each other so I do have limited contact with her, but when I call to catch up on things there is one topic I never bring up: My writing.

You don’t have to snub the negative people in your life, and you don’t have to write them off. You might come to a place where you want to do that anyway, just for the sake of your overall mental health. But there’s no need to never talk to someone again just because they’re not someone you can talk about your novel with. However, if you’re going to keep someone negative in your life then that IS the rule: You cannot talk about your book around them, especially not if you’re in the very early stages of writing it.

If your mother has always been critical of you, your coworkers hate their lives, or like me, you have a negative friend who you also happen to love like a sister, you’re going to put those people on a blacklist. Talk about everything under the sun with them—except your book.

Writing Guides
Unlike negative people, writing guides can actually be helpful. If you’ve finished your first manuscript and you want to get some ideas on how to extensively revise, or you’ve written a book or two and you’re looking now to really hone your craft, these are situations in which writing guides can come in very handy. But when you’ve just started your very first book, it’s like being plunked down in a foreign country. Looking at 50 different maps is only going to confuse the hell out of you. Start with the basics, find the North Star or track the sun going down and begin traveling from there.

The same goes for critique groups. They can be very helpful once you’ve finished a significant amount of pages and need objective feedback. But in the beginning, when you’re struggling to finish those first two chapters, having a circle of people giving you criticism (even if it’s constructive) will only serve to confuse you and plant doubts.

Anything Online About Agents and Publishing
Again, this is an area that can be helpful—LATER. Websites focused around agents and publishing tend to revolve around a couple of basic themes: What sells, and what’s selling right now. If you have a finished, revised, polished manuscript that you’re ready to send out to agents and publishers, information about the current marketplace is really valuable. If you’re halfway through your first draft and feeling depressed that you might never finish, this information is only going to steer you into comparing yourself to others.

I’ve fallen into this trap myself. I write weird, dark literary fiction that deals with alcoholism and sociopaths. And I’m still looking for an agent. Some days I get sucked into an online vortex of “What Agents Want.” By the time I come out on the other side I’m convinced I need to start writing an edgy, urban fantasy/ paranormal romance for Young Adult readers. The content you consume on the internet soaks into your brain faster than you can put on the brakes. In the early stages of writing your book, steer clear of online advice on how to market it.

These are some of the pesticides to avoid putting into your creative soil. As time goes on, I’ll go over the vitamins and organic fertilizer you want to pour into your brain to grow your healthiest creative flame.

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