Four books for writers

So you want to be a writer? That is awesome. There is absolutely no shortage of people who are willing to take your money in exchange for crappy advice, “professional” editing, and insightful criticism. I happen to think 99% of this is all a con. Most of the people selling their expertise don’t know what they are talking about. If they knew how to write a bestseller, why don’t they write one?

Sitting your butt in a chair and writing is what makes you a writer. Having a passion for telling a story makes you a writer. An insatiable hunger to share your story with the world makes you a writer. You can do it, just don’t wait around too long. 

I read an interview with Marlon James, who wrote the Booker Prize winning book “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” and he talked about how real writers do not wait to be inspired. Writers can’t afford to do that in the same way an actor can’t refuse to go on stage because he or she isn’t in the mood. A dancer can’t refuse to practice his or her routine because he or she had difficulty sleeping the night before or the kids were acting up or the laundry needed to be folded. No, you have to write. You are driven to write. If you don’t have that drive, then it’s going to be just as likely that your story will move the world as it is that a dancer who practices three times a month makes it on the New York City Ballet. Writing is an act of courage and you need to summon the courage early and often….and sometimes you suck, but that’s also how you learn that the key to good writing is often in the editing. The readers never know how many versions of the story exist or even what order the book was written.

So my advice is to go for it, but, if you want a little more guidance here are, four books that are not B.S. or con jobs. They will not detract from your ultimate goal---writing.

  1. On Writing by Stephen King: A great memoir and wonderful advice for aspiring writers about grammar and storytelling by a true master of the craft.  If you were going to get advice, who would be better to give it?

  2. The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Volger : This book breaks down philosopher Joseph Campbell’s famous “Hero’s Journey,” which is the basic building blocks of the greatest stories ever told. Believe it or not there is a connection between the famous stories of Christianity, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Charlotte’s Web, and when you read this book you will see those connections and figure out how to incorporate these elements into your own story.

  3. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by super agent Donald Maas : There is a book by the same title that I don’t like, but I really like this workbook. It is, in essence, a series of questions that forces you to think logically about your plot and deepen your characters. My favorite advice from the workbook is: What does your hero fears the most? Now make them do that to reach their goal. So simple, but brilliant!

  4. Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript by the editors of Writer’s Digest: This is exactly what it says it is. You don’t want silly fonts or weird margins. Professionals in the book industry expect writers to also be professionals (even if they’ve never been published). This book will give you the templates to feel confident about your submissions to agents, contests, and publishers.

JD Trafford