In my column a few weeks ago on what I say to new(er) writers who ask my advice I wrote I steer them toward a few websites and recommend some reading. It occurred to me (shortly after reading Eugenia's column) that it would be helpful if I actually shared some of the websites and books I recommend in the coffee shop here.
I'm going to assume everyone here knows about this site, can track down their favorite authors' blogs, and knows where to find the main sites of their favorite genres. To those I meet in real life who don't, I say: "Search the web for sites related to authors you admire or communities of writers in the genre you're interested in." Really. I don't have a rolodex with me at the coffee shop.
Anyone who knows me knows I always credit Dean Wesley Smith and his wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, with giving me the kick in the head I needed to get professional about my writing. I recommend their workshops to anyone who can afford the expense and time. For those of us who can't get to the Oregon coast this season, either of their sites is an education on the craft and business of writing. They're both worth studying in depth and visiting weekly (Only because daily would be a bit obsessive). Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch
A few months ago someone (I forget who) recommended I check out Cheryl Klein's website; I did and have since become a fan. Klein's an editor of books for children and young adults – some of which you may have heard; her more obscure titles include the American editions of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and HP & the Deathly Hallows. Not as extensive as Rusch's site, but full of useful information. And fun.
The first book I recommend writers read has nothing to do with writing. It is also the only book I recommend without qualifiers like "this might not be for everyone, but…" Larry Winget's It's Called Work for a Reason is about developing and strengthening your work ethic. The subtitle says it all: "Your Success Is Your Own Damn Fault." Unless you're willing to make the commitment to work at your writing, nothing else will help you.
I have never found a book on the writing process that I agree with 100%. But I usually find something useful in every one. My favorite part of Stephen King's On Writing is page 83 where he calls my uncle a "heavy hitter." However, the most useful thing, the thing that made the book worth reading, was his journalistic epiphany, the moment he realized what "editing" meant. A lesson reinforced by some 1st-draft-to-2nd draft examples. But the real reason the book's on my shelf is page 83. It's bookmarked.
A book that has more to do with work habits than muse is Jerry Weinberg's On Writing: Fieldstone Method. Weinberg designed computer systems for NASA, he's an expert on the psychology of communication including conflict resolution and getting disparate groups to work together. To build a wall of fieldstones, the farmer searches out the stones, collects them in one place, sorts them, then considers each one and how to use in in making the wall she wants. His approach doesn't work for everyone, and not all of his approach works for me, but it's helped me in my juggling projects' components (a big issue for us ADD types) and "Dani's Decimation" – an editing technique – is excellent.
I also recommend Second Sight by Cheryl Klein. It's a collection of her speeches, training sessions, what-have-you, on writing and publishing from the editor's perspective. And it's a perspective I like: "I am extremely wary of the word 'feel' in a manuscript, as in 'Cheryl felt extremely wary.' If you're having to tell me what your character is feeling, that makes me suspicious hat I'm not feeling it too." Second Sight is full of true stories and annotated examples to illustrate each phase of the writing, editing, and publishing process.
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass is almost an exercise in reverse engineering. He takes top-selling novels apart and explains the qualities that made them so successful. (There's also workbook) Maass presents a lot of good information, particularly in how to analyze a novel, and the workbook has many useful exercises, but his approach is not foolproof. And not everyone finds his approach – tailoring your work to the marketplace – palatable.
Another book with a superficially similar intent is Albert Zuckerman's Writing the Blockbuster Novel, a step-by-step analysis of how Ken Follett wrote The Man From St. Petersburg. Now out of print as nearly as I can tell, Blockbuster focuses on the process and choices involved in writing a novel, not writing to market.
I like Lawrence Block's collections of his Writer's Digest columns (Telling Lies for Fun and Profit; Spider, Spin Me a Web; and The Liar's Companion as much for what he has to say about being a writer as for his writing advice. Much of which I actually follow.
And finally, sometimes I read books I hate. I almost always storyboard my projects. Graph paper with circles and arrows or index cards I can shuffle and spread on the kitchen table. I usually see key moments as mountains rising out of a dense fog. I know where they are and in which order I'll get to them, but the path from peak to peak is shrouded in mist. Lately I've been thinking I could benefit from more structure in how I go about my work. To this end I've been reading K.M. Weiland's Outlining Your Novel. It's a difficult and at times painful experience – particularly given Weiland's oft-repeated opinion of folks who write as I do – but I'm taking my time and mining for things I might be able to use in my own work.
How about you? What books or authors have you found most useful in learning your craft?