Writing takes talent, but it also has rules and you can learn them!
The Best Writing
Writing has rules.
It’s important to learn them well,
even if you plan to break or bend them later on.
Writing takes talent; of course, it does. But it also is very much a discipline that can be learned and honed. Writing has rules, and it behooves any aspiring writer to learn them, even if you plan to break or bend them later. Learn the rules until like bike riding, writing properly becomes second nature.
Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it takes about 10,000 hours to become expert in everything from ice hockey to molecular chemistry. Writing is no exception. It takes both time and daily practice to become a confident writer.
In my ongoing pursuit to master the craft of writing, I know that the most important thing I can do is write a ton. Then rewrite. And rewrite some more. Then back to the blank page. Writers write. But writers should also read and read voraciously too. As I’ve explored genres as different as food and travel writing, academic, and fiction, I’ve turned to the generous canon of literature on writing. There is no way to list every book I’ve devoured along the way, and nor would you want me to. The books listed below are those to which I turn again and again for insight and inspiration as well as the nuts and bolts of the essential building blocks of a novel: plot, point of view, pace, and dialog.
I like to listen to a number of these as audiobooks while walking, cleaning the house, cooking, or driving. If you aren’t already subscribed to Audible or OverDrive, I highly recommend both! There is no better way to take in information while you get things done!
My Top Four Books on Writing
Before you read anything on writing more, writing faster, writing for money, writing a novel in a month, or any other gimmicky book on writing, I highly recommend these four books. Each goes deep into what the actual craft of writing.
Writing Books I Keep Close to Hand
Once you’ve read the top four, explore specific aspects of the craft of writing with these books.
The Virgin’s Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative,
Spiritual, and Sexual Awakening
The Emotion Thesaurus:
A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression
The Emotional Wound Thesaurus,
A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma
How to be a Grammar Nazi:
Mastering Grammar, Syntax, and Style
I got called a Grammer Nazi the other day, when I received a letter from my high school inviting me to a milestone reunion. Not only were there eight punctuation mistakes (and this is a very well-known New England prep school) in the letter, it also included a word that isn’t a word: “participative.” I was quite shocked. I see a lot of fundraising material in my role as a Trustee of an independent school and I had never seen anything quite so sloppy come out of the Development world.
Being me, I pointed out all these mistakes to my hapless classmates, which is when I was called a Grammer Nazi.
“Thank you,” I said, “that’s the nicest thing you people have ever said about me.”
This kind of ruthless wrangling of the English language makes me see red. If writing forms any part of your professional life, you owe it to yourself to learn the rules of grammar and syntax. The reference books below are a great starter kit for an aspiring writer. I often give this stack to someone who is headed off to college. If you don’t own a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, then you need to fix that before you do anything else.
I certainly do not scorn online versions of these resources. I find Grammarly invaluable for quick checks of spelling, grammar, and syntax, particularly when I’m commenting on something online. Nothing, however, beats printing your work out and taking a green or red (or purple) pen to it. Read your work outloud to see how your sentences flow. Get rid of every adverb you can.
The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for
Writers, Editors and Publishers
Harness the Technology!
Digital Solutions for Writers
As twenty-first century writers, we have so many marvelous technological tools at our disposal! Without a doubt, my favorite tool is Scrivener, that extraordinarily intuitive software designed by writers for writers. I’m unapologetically evangelical about it — and I can’t say enough about the joys of working in Scrivener. The top five compelling reasons to incorporate Scrivener into your writing life are:
1. Three different visual modes:
See your work in outline format, as index cards on a corkboard, or in long form. The applications for these modes are endless, and the organizational capacity is mind-blowing.
2. Project Targets.
I love Scrivener’s target ticker, which allows the writer to divide a project up into word count goals. As you reach your goal, the target ticket moves from orange to blue to green. You can share your achievements on social media, or keep them to yourself. When you work on projects with high word count goals, it’s sometimes hard to see the end of the tunnel. The target ticker helps you celebrate milestones both large and small.
3. The Binder:
To the left of every Scrivener screen is The Binder, where your work is divided into “chunks” that can be as large as a book and as small as a beat. This organization makes it super easy to reorganize your work with a simple drag and drop method. Drag in research of any kind: web pages, pdf, pictures, scans, etc., and keep it organized in the binder.
4. The Inspector
The inspector is the mirror image of the binder, holding all of your Meta Data. Using the full power of the Inspector allows you to track Points of View, Character arcs, dates, times, and other valuable information. If you are writing historical fiction, non-fiction that relies heavily on a timeline, or even project report, you may find Aeon Timeline an invaluable auxiliary program to Scrivener. These two programs can sync together to create a timeline that can be edited easily in either.
5. Automatic back up.
Need I say more?
Scrivener offers generous discounts to students and teachers, as well as a free 30-day trial.