Start the new year by giving yourself a gift: BIRD BY BIRD (Anne Lamott, Pantheon Books). If you haven't read it in awhile, read it again. Her imaginative and entertaining writing will reassure you that you are not alone in your writing anxieties. The advice can be found elsewhere, but nobody writes it the way Lamott does, and her book is a treat.
A short month calls for a short book. THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE (William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, Macmillan Publishing) is the book to get you started off right in maintaining your writing resolutions. A new edition is out, so you have no excuse to not add this style guide to your reference set.
For writers looking for a book that's both contemplative and practical, try Natalie Goldberg's WRITING DOWN THE BONES (Shambhala). It's a philosophical and spiritual look at the writer's life, primarily influenced by a Zen perspective.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the month of April ushers in the beginning of spring. Plants bloom, and writers feel their creative juices begin to flow more freely. Perhaps you're considering writing in a new genre. Before you begin, there are two books you need to read or review first: Orson Scott Card's CHARACTERS & VIEWPOINT (part of the "Elements of Fiction Writing" series published by Writer's Digest Books) and ON BECOMING A NOVELIST by John Gardner (W. W. Norton & Co.). Card will keep you from mixing your genres (such as plunking Romantic characters and perspectives into a Mystery--a flaw I've seen time and time again as a book reviewer), and Gardner will inspire you to strengthen your work and renew your commitment to writing.
Keep the momentum rolling with IF YOU CAN TALK, YOU CAN WRITE (Joel Saltzman, Warner Books). It's excellent advice delivered with lots of laughs. Saltzman makes thinking like a writer seem natural.
The psychological side of writing is explored in WRITING IN FLOW: Keys to Enhanced Creativity (Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., Writer's Digest Books). How do professional writers find "flow"? How do they "get into the zone"? Insightful, eye-opening interviews will help you better understand your own power of creativity and how to harness it. For those interested in the clinical and statistical aspects of her research, a healthy appendix will answer your questions.
For frank answers without psychiatric analysis, Frank Conroy's THE ELEVENTH DRAFT: Craft and the Writing Life from Iowa Writers' Workshop (Harper Resource) contains personal essays from students and instructors. It's a writer-by-writer look at how novelists are created and what drives them. This would make an inspiring gift for a friend who wants to write but fears he or she won't be any good at it.
For many, late August recalls the anxiety and challenge of going back to school. In that spirit, you should check out Writer's Digest Books' "Elements of Fiction Writing" series: SCENE & STRUCTURE (Jack Bickhman), BEGINNINGS, MIDDLES & ENDS (Nancy Kress), VOICE & STYLE (Johnny Payne), SETTING (Jack Bickham), CONFLICT, ACTION & SUSPENSE (William Noble), and CHARACTERS & VIEWPOINT (Orson Scott Card). These volumes are more interesting than the average college textbook. If you're looking to start a collection of reference books, consider this series.
HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL (James N. Frey, St. Martin's Press) is enjoyable, funny, and designed to give the beginning writer confidence. For more advanced writers, there is the wonderful second volume: HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL, II: Advanced Techniques for Dramatic Storytelling (St. Martin's Press). You may think you've read all the writing advice you can handle, but this one shouldn't be passed up.
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