Books about Writing

Writing is definitely a learned skill. While a lot of the writing skill is self taught through practice, it’s also incredibly helpful to learn from other writers. And fortunately, there are many writers who are willing to share their tricks of the trade with you. Today I’ve decided to give you some of the writing resource books that I’ve found most useful.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

self editing

I first encountered this book as an editing minor at BYU. We used it as the text book for our substantive editing class. This book has received quite a bit of hype, and I think it lives up to it. It has great use of concrete examples to illustrate points. This really is one of the best books for identifying problems that many beginning writers encounter.

Surviving First Drafts

surviving first drafts

Writing a first draft is a complete roller coaster. If you’re like me, you have a plethora of manuscripts that you started and never finished because you lost steam or you started chasing a shiny new idea. This book is all about giving you strategies to actually get those drafts done. Also, Erica is pretty funny. So that makes it a fun read.

Paper Hearts

paper hearts

There are three books in the Paper Hearts series. Admittedly, I’ve only read the second, which is publishing advice. I loved that book, though, and I can’t wait to read the other two books in the series (which are about writing and marketing). The publishing book covered a lot of ground, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone wondering how to get a book out into the world.

Refilling Your Inkwell

Refilling Your Inkwell

Everyone experiences writers block sometimes. It’s especially frustrating when you experience a prolonged case of it. I recommend this book to anyone whose found themselves in a writing rut and wants to get out.

Those are some of my favorites, but I know there are lots of other great writing books out there. Let me know what some of your favorites are!

Time for a Pep Talk

Pep talks are just a thing that need to happen every so often. So here’s your pep talk of the day.

I’ve been going through giving feedback to the people who submitted to me for Pitch to Publication. I got some AMAZEBALLS submissions. Seriously. Pretty much every submission had at least one thing I liked about it.

So I’ve been going through to send feedback and about every other entry has me thinking “Why didn’t I choose this one? It’s amazing.” Most of my feedback so far hasn’t been feedback at all but more of a “Sorry I couldn’t work on all the manuscripts. Please keep writing. I think you’re awesome and we should be friends and I actually did like your book.”

Like that, but with fewer run-on sentences.

You probably have heard time and again that you shouldn’t let rejections discourage you. But that doesn’t change the fact that rejections are the worst. Even the most stoic writers feel the sting of rejection.

Which is why it’s important to have regular pick-me-ups. It’s important to have people tell you they believe in you.

I believe in you! I mean, I don’t know personally. But I still believe in you! You are a talented, wonderful person. And you can write the thing.

Keep writing the thing. The thing will be great.



Stakes: You need them!

This is a topic I’ve covered quite a bit on my own website, but I still see a lot of writers struggling to include stakes in their query. So we’re going to talk about it again here.

So you’re writing your query. It’s going well. You’ve established your setting. You’ve established your characters. You’ve even got some good conflict going. That’s all great! Now you want to end your query with maximum level impact. Something that will leave the reader with that I-gotta-have-this-immediately feeling.

How do you achieve that effect? If you can’t guess from the title of this post, the answer is stakes. Character, setting, and conflict are all necessary aspects of your query. But really standout queries also rely on clearly established stakes.

Stakes are more than just conflict. Stakes are what your main character stands to lose if they don’t win the conflict you’ve already presented. Without stakes, there’s no real reason to care whether the main character succeeds or not.

Would we care whether Frodo could destroy the ring if the fate of Middle Earth didn’t hang in the balance? Would we care whether Katniss could win the Hunger Games if failure didn’t mean death? Probably not. In your query letter, you need to be clear about what happens if the main character can’t successfully resolve the conflict.

If you’re unsure how exactly to do this, I have a simple formula I recommend. It goes as follows:

Main character must do [insert really hard thing] or else [insert really bad thing] will happen.

You can play with the wording, of course. But that’s the gist of it. Not too hard, is it?

Don’t leave your reader wondering why they should care. Give them stakes!

Making your writer’s block productive

It happens to everyone. That I-can’t-stand-the-thought-of-writing-right-now feeling. You get to this moment where you feel like just looking at your manuscript will make you vomit.

Most of the time I would advise you to just write through it. Butt in chair until words happen. But what if you can’t even handle that? Here are a few things you can do while you’re waiting for that spark to reignite.

  1. Read. Read as much as you can. It’s the best non-writing thing you can do to improve your writing.
  2. Learn a new skill. If you’re struggling with writing, try your hand at another creative outlet. Give sculpting a go. Learn a dance routine. Alternatively, try learning a skill your main character would us. Are they an archer? Try shooting some arrows yourself. Or if they ride horses, try that out.
  3. Get some exercise. Focusing on a physical activity will help clear your head. This doesn’t even have to be a hardcore workout complete with cardio and strength training. It can be as simple as going for a walk.
  4. Research agents. One of my favorite things to do during a bout of writer’s block is to stalk the Manuscript Wishlist feed or the Ten Queries feed. If you’re planning to get an agent eventually, you may as well start researching now (just don’t send before you’re ready!). I also find that this gets me excited about writing because it reminds me what my long term goals are.
  5. Get into your novel aesthetics. Make a Pinterest board for your book. Choose your dream cast for when they make your bestseller into a movie.  I recently discovered a site where you can make manga-esque pictures of your characters, and I had a lot of fun with it.
Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.59.31 PM
The main character from my current work in progress, who apparently is not impressed by the very science looking thing behind her.

Sometimes writing blocks happen. But when they do, you can still find writing-productive things to do. Let us know in the comments what some of you like to do to make your creative dry spells productive!