Wherever you stand in your writing journey, I would like to suggest some resources. Feel free to add more in the comments.
That’s right. You are your best creative tool. In schools, we are whipped with strict methods and then we grow up – at least on the calendar – to realize that being a writer is storytelling through our lenses in an engaging approach. You should write it the way you like it.
Art products are like human beings: unique.
If you want to get better at writing, you should read and write more, of course. And once you write more, you’ll get to a point where you understand that good writing is good re-writing. The idea is this simple and yet, editing is often overlooked because by writing what we often mean is editing.
How to edit your own lousy writing by Julian Gough taught me this. It’s a free downloadable essay and Julian’s is not just a talented artist (a musician and movie maker) but he’s a hilarious human being. Seriously, you should check him out.
Non-fiction & general creative writing
1. Natalie Goldberg blends writing and meditation in an approach which has been taught for decades. It’s based on the practice of writing loose thoughts with the aim to master writer’s presence and richness of details on the page. Writing down the bones is where you can start, Thunder and lightening the sequel. An old friend from far away is for the memoirists (with exercises). Natalie is also a poet and a painter. Her books are an invaluable resource to anyone who wants to approach writing in a relaxed and personal way, no matter the reason. I wish I had known her before…
2. Diane Ackerman’s A Natural history of the senses is a thick guide on how our five senses work. She spans from secrets of perfumes ingredients to the way our taste buds process chocolate cookies. This book is an eye-opener on how we can recreate sensorial details so that readers can hopefully feel, touch, smell and hear as we do.
3. Bird by bird by Anne Lamott. This is a memoir on her writing journey shedding light on the role of time. I loved the way she describes the making of her first novel, stressing the obstacles, the nervous wrecks and her realization that nothing is as important as the journey (writing) to get where we want, rather than the destination per se (publication). Scene by scene, little by little, bird by bird. This is how a book is born.
4. The memoir project by Marion Roach Smith. Opposing Natalie Goldberg, Marion speaks about the writing with intent method for writing memoir. I loved this book and it’s good to hear her point of view as well. If you are into writing non-fiction, you should check her blog.
5. 5 secrets of story structure by K. M. Weiland How many acts should a story have? Where the climax should go? The Kindle edition of this book it’s downloadable for free.
6. On writing well by William Zinsser The book gathers William’s lessons taught for decades where he analyzes what’s good writing (or re-writing). His bibliography, rich in writing different genres, is definitively worth a look.
7. A Manual of Writer’s Tricks: Essential Advice for Fiction and Nonfiction Writers by David L. Carrol A small booklet with valuable hands-on tips about writing and editing plus a ‘famous writers’ tips’ bonus. It’s condensed but powerful.
8. Naming the unnamable by Michelle Bonzeck Ivory. This is an academic book about poetry but Michelle gives great tips also on general creative writing, muses’ stimulation and tips on getting published. I love the activities and her easy language on such a fat subject.
The breakout novelist by Donal Maass If you write fiction or would like to start, this should be your bible. It breaks the subject in 3 essential parts: the nuts and bolts of writing fiction, how to make the writing shines and the publishing part. Donal leaves great exercises at the end of each section, definitively a must if you want to rock this craft.
Your First Novel: An Author Agent Team Share the Keys to Achieving Your Dream by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb. These wonderful women (writer & literary agent) will grab your hand and guide you through the writing journey step by step. Their honesty of approach will open your eyes and make you want to despair or get serious at writing now.
Good for the soul
Creativity by Osho This gives me courage during the worst days.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Do you remember eat, pray, love? Of course, you do. I still remember my flatmate in Dublin sobbing with Julia Roberts and Javier Barden in Bali. Liz this time is writing about her life after that overwhelming success. She focuses on how to approach a stack of blank pages while the crowd out there is expecting the next best-seller. This is not just for writers but for creative people in general.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who’s Been There by Cheryl Strayed. Heartbreaks, cheating, panic attacks, addictions, genre questions, penis size gossips. The book is a collection of pieces of advice Cheryl (author of Wild) crafted as an anonymous columnist in response to readers’ letters. The book isn’t about writing – there’s just a tiny part about it. The effect that had on me, can’t make it skip from this list though. Why? Wait to read my travel memoir and you’ll see 🙂
Thesaurus for synonyms and antonyms. It is important to make sure that each word on the page makes sense.
A rhyme finder. If you like playing with music.
Your local libraries and bookstore
Go gather a pile of random books of any genre. Start from the middle or from the end. Notice how the first sentence hooks you. Check the structure. It’s amazing how some best sellers would be outrageous, different and fresh in perspective. They break schemes.
Bookstores and libraries are great venues to boost our self-confidence since the start of our writing journey. Time, patience and hard work can give us a unique voice to tell the story we are dying to read. Also, they are good places to find those books we would never want to read. Browsing genres, from fiction to poetry and Indonesian recipes or yoga techniques, it’s a great thing and it costs nothing.
Creative writing courses
I used to think that writing should be done in solitude, which in part is true (maybe that’s why I love doing it). But at some stage, we need to show it and see where we need to improve. Mentors are there for a reason (and a good one). Plus, bonding (or hating) fellow writers is a great experience.
This is especially true for poetry. I used to believe that poems are good as soon as they are finished and I couldn’t be more wrong. We need to have another set of eyes on the page and see if the pictures we are composing in words are the same we are evoking. As in most of the things where we have no experience in life, at least at first, we need a guide.
Writers’ critique clubs (and writing groups)
You don’t need to be a professional writer to join writers’ critique clubs. These critique groups are similar to the writing groups even though at writers critique what I have experienced is that there is less room for procrastination and more for feedback.
In writing groups, we write on the spot and comment after each round. In critique groups, we have already a piece that has been sent to each writer at least a week before so that everyone can comment it in details during the meeting.
While at writing groups I have seen lots of sulks, critiquers tend to take notes and know how to distinguish nasty comments from constructive feedbacks. If you have been working on a piece for some time I’d suggest checking a critique group (locally or online). Follow your instinct. If you come out excited, keep going back. If people tend to discourage you a bit too much, go for the next club (or start your own).
On a general note, remember that some people are born to annoy others and writers are great at this (if not among the best).
My favourites found via Google:
- Joanna Penn. She should be rebaptised Joanna D’Arc Penn. Indie authors (or not) go and check her out.
- MOCC and the like. My current favourite is the non-fiction IWP. You might have already heard about Coursera or Alison too. There are many free writing courses out there…you have no excuses!
Travel with an open mind
I am not saying you need to embark on a trekking week in Nepal. Nice, but expensive. You may want to drive to your next village and buy schnitzel instead of avocados for once. You don’t even need your feet to travel. You can read from the couch of your living room.
But if you can, do it.
Try to do the thing you do every day from another place and see how your brain winds. You will see how the difference in humankind has a reason to be. If there are places in the world where people eat and spit in the same place, try to understand why before showering harsh judgments. Acknowledgement doesn’t have to match likelihood anyways.
There’s nothing more annoying than reading the point of view of someone who thinks is totally right. This is very likely to happen when you spend your days scrolling Facebook or being the next potato couch idol who’s o.k. knowing one side of the coin only.
Youtube & Co.
Tons of people on Youtube are giving bits of advice and some of them are great. However, the alluring nature of social media might pamper the procrastinator in us a bit too much, which is what we don’t wanna do, right?
Writing is always the best resource you can use.
Writing does writing says Natalie Goldberg.
A painter paints, a photographer snaps and a builder piles bricks. Browse through the 2015 (or 6 months ago) entry of this website to notice the difference. It’s nice to be aware of how we change… looking backwards on our failures can be a boost to strive for the best.