When I was in high school my aunt gave me The Pocket Muse. I believe Alison L also used this one in a high school creative writing class, but I might be making that up. This book is full of wacky pictures, writing prompt, and exercises. For me this book has been like a laxative for writer’s block. Seriously, it will get everything flowing again. Did I take that joke too far? Sometimes, I think writers can get really stuck on trying to draw from personal experience or write “serious” fiction. A lot of writing starts with a simple question – what if? Like what if a reasonable person cried over spilled milk? Or what if there was a silence that wouldn’t go away? (Both examples from the book).
Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly is by one of my favorite authors, Gail Carson Levine. Ella Enchanted was the book that taught me to love reading. I would read her grocery lists if she published them. This book is written with a middle school / high school audience in mind, and focuses specifically on writing fantasy. It turns out that Levine doesn’t just know how to write, she knows how to teach. She provides many writing exercises, is encouraging, and provides lots of examples of her writing process. Something she stresses is the importance of writing lots of different ideas. This week I picked up this book and had explored five different story ideas within an hour.
My nana gave me Why We Write, when I decided to move to California to focus on writing my novel. Don’t I have a supportive family? I debated with myself about adding this book to the list, because it is not written with a young writer in mind. The book show contains twenty popular authors answering the question of why they do what they do. While I read this book, even though I was interested in what each author was saying my thoughts kept straying to why I wanted to write books. I think this would be a great to read as a teenager because it banishes the idea that writing is an unreachable, lofty profession. In school you read a lot of books written by dead people, this shows that not all writers are Shakespeare. There are lots of different kinds of books you can grow up and write besides the next great American novel.
John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers is my all time favorite writing book. In fact I’ve written about this book before in a previous blog post. Some people say you can’t teach writing. Gardner challenges this on the first page, saying, “like the ability to play basketball well, or to outguess the stock market – writing ability is mainly a product of good teaching supported by a deep-down love of writing.” He proceeds to attempt to teach the reader everything from grammar and syntax to plotting and genre. The chapter on common errors is something I go back to again and again. His rules are rigid, but I am a believer that if you follow them your writing will improve.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What are some of the books I’ve missed?