writing resources

All posts tagged writing resources

SJ Reads: On Writing

Published November 20, 2017 by admin

I feel like this is such a typical book to recommend, I shouldn’t put it on the list, but truthfully, it’s damn good. I have mixed feelings on Stephen King as a whole, but no one can argue with his career and output, and this is truly a really unique, interesting way to illustrate a writing career.

on writing

 

Part memoir, part resource on the craft, this title digs deep. You really get a sense of why King writes the themes he does, how he developed his craft, and how it relates to him as a person. He especially relates a lot to his accident (I think this may have been written recently after), and it really shows how much a cellular part of him writing is.

The back half of the book is his suggestions on writing mechanics, a reading list, and even an example of how he edits his work. It’s definitely worth it for that alone, and together the sections really make this a powerhouse of a title. I’ve read it, I’ve listened to it on audio, and I keep coming back to it. Every time I go through my books, this always ends up in the keep pile, and for good reason.

Granted, after reading his fiction off and on for years part of me feels he breaks some of his own rules, and a few things come off a little heavy handed in the back section to me, but then again he’s Stephen King and I’m not. It’s definitely worth a cursory read, as a writer at probably any level will find some sort of takeaway, even if it’s just a reminder of things to keep an eye out for. This is especially good for the new writer or one who feels stuck. It’s no coincidence that so many writing books also pull from the author’s personal experience, and King does this especially well in the first section of the book. His casual and commiserating tone definitely make this book more approachable than some of the more technique-oriented books out there.

Get it here!

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SJ Reads: Writing Down the Bones

Published November 13, 2017 by admin

This was actually one of the first writing books that was recommended to me, and one that was given to me, as well. I’ve read it a few times, though it’s been a while. Probably time to read it again.

writing down the bones

This probably works for me because it’s lined up inadvertantly with some of my own explorations into Zen, and I like the admission that both are a constant practice. The author does a wonderful job of painting specific examples to illustrate her points, often from her own life and experience. There are some great writing prompts in here, as well. Over all, she gives the reader (and writer) a lot to think about. I find myself still thinking on bits and pieces of this book when I haven’t read it, and it’s forced me to be more conscious of my own journey and daily experience.

It’s a decidedly postive, encouraging book, as well, so even if some of the information is things that you could find in a lot of writing books, it feels incredibly supportive coming from these pages. You don’t feel like it’s some high and mighty mega-bestseller writing this to fulfill a quota or to humble brag or whatever. Natalie Goldberg clearly cares about the craft and wants to share her enthusiasm for it. That alone is enough to put this book on my shelf over some others. This was the book that got me writing daily once upon a time, that got me willing to just put words down without knowing what they were necessarily for. It’s done me a lot of good over and over again, so I definitely think it’s one worth exploring.

Definitely check it out!

 

 

 

Dear Writers: Please Read (A Book)

Published October 11, 2017 by admin

We’re back to some practical advice for this month, so pull up a chair and let’s dish.

About a year ago, I was guesting at a convention and was hanging out with some other authors. The topic of books came up (duh), and what we were reading, and I heard something which was utterly offensive to my poor ears which you think would be cynical to stuff like this by now.

“Oh, I don’t read, I don’t have time. I just write books.”

Or something. I’m paraphrasing. I think my ears are still crying.

Look at that sentence. Look at it!

If you write or want to write, I want you to stare long and hard at that sentence, and never, ever, do that. 

Look, I get some of you probably think this is bottom of the barrel basic knowledge and a waste of a blog post, but I also didn’t think I’d hear an author who was there giving out advice admit they didn’t read books.

And they weren’t the only one. 

I think I stared and was probably lifted up and carried off before I could open my big mouth.

Here’s the thing: to write well, you have to read. You just do. You don’t learn about different voices in action, or structure, or different takes on genre, or well…anything unless you’re actively seeing what all is out there.

And when I say read, I mean read everything. Everything ever written. Right now.

Okay, okay, that may be a slightly tall order. Definitely read, and please diversify. Don’t read only what you write to try to get a leg up, because you aren’t all those other people, and by time you think of the perfect idea to write to market, the market’s gonna change. You don’t read just to imitate people or try to sell. You read to become a more well-rounded artist and person. You may agree with how some people write and not others, and that’s fair. That’s cool…but you also won’t even know what you agree with and why if you don’t start flipping some pages.

Some of the most frustrating conversations I’ve ever had are with fantasy authors who only read like three other fantasy authors. Or people whose sense of the horror genre starts and ends with Stephen King. The problem is that 1) that gives you an extremely limited range and 2) If you are put in the position of sitting on panels or giving workshops, you are then going to be giving people limited and bad information.

Seriously, don’t be that person. Don’t be the “expert” who doesn’t know at least what some of the subgenres of the basics are. Don’t get so stuck in the romantic aspect of young adult stories that you forget other types of plots are a thing, despite having a huge chunk of titles proving you wrong. No one is going to know everything (no, you’re not), but at least get a feel for things that aren’t just your preference. Know some different mediums. Know what you don’t know. Then go read that.

I look at it like this: if I didn’t read nonfiction, I wouldn’t stumble onto some really fascinating things I could use in some of my titles. If I didn’t read folk stories, Olde School never would’ve gotten written. If I hadn’t started reading manga, I wouldn’t be nearly as brave to try new structures and tangent my plots and do different things. Reading graphc novels has taught me the beauty of trying to streamline and be concise. Anthologies have shown me just what you can do with a theme (and a set word count). Ray Bradbury is a master class of short stories, but his essays are equally important. I spent my entire time in college reading a huge range of plays (some required reading, others things that were loaned to me). All of them shaped the type of artist I’m becoming and my sense of story and action in different ways.

Articles, memoirs, poems, speeches, plays – you can gain something from all of these, whether you’re directly applying it into your work or not.

And, yes, you also learn what not to do. Or, you learn what works for you and what isn’t in your comfort zone or isn’t one of your strengths.

And, honestly, if you aren’t taking the time as an author to read, than I’m going to assume you’re writing for very different reasons than I am. If you can’t make time to support the art that you yourself are pursuing, than how do I know you’re developing your craft? How do I know you have any real respect for how hard everyone else is working? No one starts out fully formed and in a vacuum and there is always something to learn. Actors still take acting classes, artists still learn new techniques. Probably one of the most important things you can do if you’re a writer or want to get published is to get thee to your local library (because libraries are awesome) and see what’s up.

Seriously. Read a book. Then another. And another. Rinse, repeat.

So how about you? If you write, how important is reading to you? Do you stay in your comfort zone or read different things? Talk to me about the pros and cons!

 

Practical Issues: Research

Published August 16, 2017 by admin

Every so often (but not so that it’s high and mighty or obnoxious) I want to do a practical issues post on writing stuff. The thing is, I fully get that I’m not Stephen King (boy would that be the weirdest Freaky Friday ever) or a huge bestseller or whatevs. However, I find that I end up contributing to the same conversations about writing on social media a lot, and in panels I find that there area always similar basic issues. And sometimes I’m just going to cover stuff that annoys me (not today, though, we’ll start out gentle).

As The Maternal One says, It’s not that I know everything, it’s that I’ve just fallen in more ditches.

So today I’d like to talk a little bit about…research. Partly because I’m neck deep in it, partly because it seems to intimidate a lot of people. People seem to either assume they know what they need to know or they go hog wild and intimidate themselves out of starting a project in the first place. So first up is to find a happy medium. You should also get some sort of an idea about what you need to know to make your story or book at least seem realisitic. Sometimes it helps to know the rules to break the rules (or in this case know the area/time period/whatever to play around in them or to cheat a little bit). I was on a panel once about using real places as settings and while it may not always be in your best interest to call out a place of business or a city down to its flatware patterns, if you’re writing about Chicago it should feel like Chicago. If you’re writing about a small town and have never experienced one, it’s better to find a way to get some knowledge in ya or risk being called out. To make things easier, it does help to have a rough outline in your head about what to research, or else you’ll be overwhelmed pretty quick.

Example: My horror e-book Mooner doesn’t overtly give a year and a time period, though I had it in my head that it was somewhere around the 1870’s and probably Wisonsin or Michigan. Although I had some disappointed Canadians call me out for that once, so it can be wherever people want it to be  where there are lumberjacks.

Speaking of lumberjacks, I knew that I was going to have to explore their world – but I chose to do it in a really limited environment. The historical fiction of other authors had inspired me, so I latched onto this idea of a saloon. At first I had just a very loose encounter in my head, but with some quick interneting of historical sites, I was able to get an idea of the dress, the lifestyle, the habits, the pure danger of choosing that type of life, and the speech. Which led me to online dictionaries because boy howdy, do lumberjacks have their own language and I do tend to get heart palpitations with interesting dialects.

That basic info, though, really gave me permission to play with the characters – to the point of adding in an extra bit at the end that hadn’t even occurred to me until I was fleshing things out.

Not that research is limited to historical stuff, mind. In the Red involved a lot of researching medical conditions (and some one-on-one conversations when I could get them), and as many rock urban legends and touring rock musician anecdotes that I could find (the latter is also a weird hobby of mine, so that wasn’t too much of a stretch). You would think that Olde School would just involve me making up stuff, but there was again a ton of research into fairy tales, politics, emminent domain, and dialects. If anything, making up your own world takes way more work than filling in the blanks in the real one. Currently I’m binging on a lot of history and pop culture from the mid/late 50’s through not quite today, because I’m a glutton for punishment who never learns her lessons. And a lot of rocker/groupie culture because apparently I have to entertain myself while inflicting self-torture.

So where do you do all this research, I hear you ask. Might I suggest…

  1. The Internet – the obvious choice. Google and Wikipedia do wonders. However, some stuff has to be taken with a grain of salt. Historical and school project sites are great for basic rundowns of time periods or issues.

2. The Library – it still exists, I swear, and there are handy librarians who can help you out (I’ve yet to totally freak out a librarian with an odd request, and that’s saying something). Not only do you have books, but they probably have resources on local events and history and things you might not have considered. Also, stealthy trick I’ve learned – never underestimate a kid or teen biography or nonfiction book. It’ll give you all the basics and get to the point much faster than trying to flip through a stack of big books. This is especially good if you need general information or have a basic idea of what you want to do but need filler or a guiding hand.

3. People – I know it can be weird and uncomfortable, but never underestimate good first-hand experience. It’s pretty common for me to ask if anyone knows about certain stuff on my media. You can also try calling places (be respectful), and make sure to be up front with people about what you need and what you’re using it for. I find that people generally are cool with being helpful, but don’t waste their time, either. Come prepared and be upfront. It also helps to have friends with varying experiences or who are willing to shove their other friends at you. I’ve got people I regularly text for local government type advice, I have a poli sci person, I’ve harrassed probably every musician and performer I’ve worked with, and even the stuff I’m generally pretty sure on I’ll check with people. If you need to know law for your lawyer pirate adventure story, see who you know first, then put out feelers for people who might be willing to talk to you. Usually there’s someone curious enough to give you a few minutes.

4. Documentaries, nonfiction shows – Plunk yourself down in front of some PBS. See what Netflix has to say about certain subjects. Of course,there may be some bias depending on the docu, but you are going to find different angles on subjects that you might not have expected.

5. Pay attention – No, seriously, all the time. It’s the same thing for the whole ‘where do you get your ideas’ question. If you don’t pay attention, really dig deep and become aware of your surroundings, your emotions, and those around you, you’re missing a huge resource. This kind of plays into the sense memory thing, but your perceptions and experiences are important, as well.

6. Go places and do stuff – I don’t expect you to fly across the world every time you have an exotic setting, but if you need a small town environment and haven’t been in one for a while, go road trip. Really get yourself in that environment (but do it safely. With all of this, safety first, please). Same if you haven’t been in, say, a DMV for a long time but want to set a scene in one. Go hang out, see what there is to see. This is also the cheap excuse I use for taking random classes or going out and about and doing different things – I need it for research.

Two final thoughts:

  • As important as research is, you’re not going to nail everything. You’re just not. You want the details to work with your plot, so at times you may have to fudge things a little bit. You may get called out for it, you may not. The real art of it is making everything seem real instead of just a fill in the blank exercise to show that you learned stuff.
  • Keep an open mind when you research. Know what you need it for, but don’t be absolutely married to your outline. I’ve found details that made me change course because they gave me ideas that were just too good to not use. Always keep an open mind.

Now, there is also the whole genre writing caveat, I suppose. How do you write what you know when you can’t know them? How do you write stuff you can’t research whole sale?

Lucky you, I did a guest post for mythic scribes about just that.

What are your favorite methods for research? Do you find one thing works better over others for you? Does research push you out of your comfort zone or do you love it?

 

 

SSP Spring Fling: Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Published March 27, 2014 by admin

And of course the Spring Fling wouldn’t be complete without the Writer’s Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy! This is not only a great title, but an important one. You’ll find all sorts of essays by some amazing authors in here to give you a well-rounded view of what it means to write genre fiction.

Writers+Workshop+of+Science+Fiction+&+Fantasy

 

Kindle     Nook         Kobo

Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy is a collection of essays and interviews by and with many of the movers-and-shakers in the industry. Each contributor covers the specific element of craft he or she excels in. Expect to find varying perspectives and viewpoints, which is why you many find differing opinions on any particular subject.

This is, after all, a collection of advice from professional storytellers. And no two writers have made it to the stage via the same journey-each has made his or her own path to success. And that’s one of the strengths of this book. The reader is afforded the luxury of discovering various approaches and then is allowed to choose what works best for him or her.

Featuring essays and interviews with:
Neil Gaiman
Orson Scott Card
Ursula K. Le Guin
Alan Dean Foster
James Gunn
Tim Powers
Harry Turtledove
Larry Niven
Joe Haldeman
Kevin J. Anderson
Elizabeth Bear
Jay Lake
Nancy Kress
George Zebrowski
Pamela Sargent
Mike Resnick
Ellen Datlow
James Patrick Kelly
Jo Fletcher
Stanley Schmidt
Gordon Van Gelder
Lou Anders
Peter Crowther
Ann VanderMeer
John Joseph Adams
Nick Mamatas
Lucy A. Snyder
Alethea Kontis
Nisi Shawl
Jude-Marie Green
Nayad A. Monroe
G. Cameron Fuller
Jackie Gamber
Amanda DeBord
Max Miller
Jason Sizemore

This edition also includes several full page illustrations from award-winning artists Matthew Perry and Bonnie Wasson