The Low-Budget Writing Program: Part 3 Take Over the Literary World!

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This is a short post since it’s my vacation week, and there aren’t many writers tackling how to take over the literary world.

To date I have only found John Warner, the master of the fake famous-writer-quote, in the form of his helpful “Fondling Your Muse” (Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati 2005).  From the confusing dedication to the ridiculous blurbs on the back of the book, it’s packed with awful rules-to-live-by and terrible advice. He explains how and why to write your Manifesto, the place you alternately smash all writers who have come before AND promise to be the light in a dark, sewer-like world.  He also touches on the importance of preparing your Acceptance speech for all those awards you are going to receive.  Don’t miss the quiz, “So You Want To Be A Writer,” that proves only a self-destructive ego-maniac would choose to be a writer.  There is also some stuff about writing, like plot, character, and point of view and such nonsense.  I wasn’t paying attention.  I was envisioning the life of wealthy ease he promised if I followed his path to writerly fame.

Seriously, if you need to share in venting about the ridiculous contradictions of a writer’s life, or you just need a break from Serious Writer Stuff, pick it up and enjoy.

If you missed last week’s post, “The Monster in My Manuscript,” it was about books that will help you analyze and revise your rough draft.

Next week I will start in on the topic of syntax and grammar, in “How to Slay the Many-Headed Grammar Hydra!” [OR, I will keep putting that blog off, in a state of numb panic over my inexperience, and next post about putting your manuscript in the garbage.]

Low-Budget Writing Program:

  1. Butt in Chair
  2. The Monster in My Manuscript
  3. Take Over the Literary World!
  4. When the Manuscript Goes Into the Garbage Can
  5. Fear is the Mind-Killer
  6. Grammar and Punctuation and Bears! Oh, My!

The Low-Budget Writing Program: Part 2 The Monster in My Manuscript

This week I will attempt to tell you about the “How to” writing books that helped me to understand that the very raw first drafts I scribbled were worth developing into manuscripts, and how I was able to approach revision.

Scan_20171127 (10)The first of these, and the book I consider the benchmark for storytelling, is “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers” (Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, CA 1998) by Christopher Vogler.  It analyzes Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey theory, one of the most basic story structures, from the point of view of a veteran story consultant and scriptwriter.  Vogler really delves into why this kind of story speaks to humans, and cites plenty of examples to help you to understand the concepts.  He even gives workbook questions at the end of each chapter to help you apply the concepts to your favorite stories.  If you read through it, with your own finished rough draft in mind, I think you can’t help but see ways to improve your work.  Vogler admits that any and all of the guideline he presents can be broken, sometimes to great effect, but it’s easier to be a breakout writer if you already know what is expected and actually works. [Since posting this, I have had a chance to read the third edition (2007) of this book.  Vogler goes much deeper and broader into the theory, and you really shouldn’t miss it!]

Scan_20171127 (12)Because of the popularity of  writing stories from the woman’s point-of-view, usually more introspective and self-creative than the Hero’s Journey, many articles are being written to accommodate this shift of focus.  Personally, I haven’t found any of these articles to be half as effective as “The Virgin’s Promise” (Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, CA 2009) by Kim Hudson.  This book maps out the journey stages of self-awareness found in many Fairy Tales, and the mythical princess breaking out of her tower plotline.  It is similar to the Hero’s Journey in some ways, but widely different in others.  Don’t assume this it is only for female characters, because it is about the idea of growing beyond the role society has placed on you.  In my current work-in-progress it is the male antagonist/love interest who is firmly on this path, and it was easier to understand him once I knew this.

Scan_20171127 (6)Another way to check your rough draft is to run it past Noah Lukeman, a prominent New York literary agent, in the form of his book, “The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life” ( St. Martins Griffin, New York 2002).  It is written in a crisp, insightful way developed from his many years of reading manuscripts.  (Over fifty thousand in five years.  Yikes!) The first two chapters are full of questions you had better have an answer to, before you send your work to an agent or publisher.  Probably the biggest impression I got from his advice was Don’t Bore The Reader!  Boredom equals an unfinished or discarded book; a book that doesn’t get recommended, and word-of-mouth is the best promotional tool for a writer.  I personally love his Sahara-dry wit and no-nonsense advice.  Mr. Lukeman also has another book high on my reading list called “The First Five Pages” that I suspect will be just as important to read, since that is where you hook your reader into the whole story.

Scan_20171127 (22)“How to Write a Damn Good Novel” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1987) by James N. Frey is another excellent resource you can use to refine your story.  He covers the usual topics of character, conflict, plot, climax, voice, etc… in a very readable and engaging way, but also covers such in-depth topics as theme, premise, and symbolism in a way that makes sense to the writer and satisfies the reader (and how to not over-use these hidden gems).  The age of this book makes it a bit out of date in the current e-book and internet savvy world, but you should still be able to wield those skills he tries so hard to instill. I won’t re-read it after every first draft, but once a year or so might be a good idea.

Scan_20171127 (16)Another important book, if the sheer number of sticky paper tags sprouting from the closed book is any indication, is “By Cunning & Craft” (Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati 2007) by Peter Selgin.  He covers many of the same topics as the other books, but everyone has their own spin on the way to address and analyze the questions EVERY writer asks themselves when trying to tell a story.  Mr. Selgin has a deeply insightful way of choosing the tone and style of a particular story, and–more importantly–why.  The subtle nuances of storytelling are his to command, and he will show you by example.  He also encourages you to be as true as possible to your voice, as a writer, while still producing a marketable book.  The chapter on Revision is a well written pat-on-the-head, a tight hug, and some wise words as you are sent on your way.

Scan_20171127 (26)My internal conflict between the writer’s voice and marketability prompted me to grab onto “The Joy of Writing Sex” (Story Press, Cincinnati 1996) by Elizabeth Benedict with both hands when I found it by chance in a used book store, and to not let go until I had it home.  It was one of very few books that addressed this topic when it was published and completely novel in its approach, although now her advice is the standard model for mainstream novels.  Current trends in off-mainstream books have shifted away from “Less is more” and graphic detail is standard for some sub-genres, especially the many bastard children of Romance and all of the other Speculative Fiction genres, not to mention the increasing popularity of Erotica.  Still, I got a lot out of her examples of restrained detail, along with a greatly increased reading list.  And even this firm proponent of “less is more” nearly tittered in horrified fascination as she gave a few examples of the bolder, more graphic writers of her time.  My biggest take away from her book was to be subtle if you can, but if you can’t… Go all out!

I know that is a lot of books at once, and they range across several topics, but it was the combination of them that pushed me toward thinking I had something to work with.  Something worth the time to revise.  I hope they do the same for you.

These are the books I have kept as valued hard copies on my book shelf, and I have saved them for going back to if stuck or confused about my writing.  This is a tiny sample of what is available, so please, feel free to add any books I haven’t mentioned in the comments.  What helped YOU on the road to becoming a writer?  It may just be the one book that will help the next writer coming along.

The Low-Budget Writing Program:

  1. Butt in Chair
  2. The Monster in My Manuscript
  3. Take Over the Literary World!
  4. When the Manuscript Goes in the Garbage…
  5. Fear is the Mind-Killer
  6. Grammar and Punctuation and Bears! Oh, My!

 

The Low-Budget Writing Program: Part 1 Butt in Chair

The political and social issues just keep coming in hits I can’t seem to process, so I’ve decided to work on that annotated bibliography I promised here.  Hopefully it will give other up-and-coming writers a helping hand, although it’s a steadying hand from the side, not pulling you up from a higher place.  This first installment addresses the issue of getting your butt into the chair and making a start.

Scan_20171127 (18)Stephen King’s “On Writing” (Pocket Books, New York 2001) is the first book that helped me realize it was ok to write the way I was already writing.  High school taught me the proper way to write, with outlines and stuff, but I spent more than twenty years with little to no actual writing, just outlines and notes. When I turned forty-five some mental block must have released, and I started writing prose every free moment. After a year of writing I realized I should do something with it, and started looking for answers.  Stephen King (by way of a used book store) stepped in.  His own story of writing–ignoring people who said it was trash, learning to streamline it for readability, his lucky break that lead to a prolific career–all gave me hope.  I was late to the game, but so what?  Here is the place I learned to just write.  Write until it’s done. Butt in chair.  Just write. Let it suck.  Just finish.  If you do, you are way ahead of all the writers that want to find the time to write, but never do, and there are legions of them.

Scan_20171127 (20)Terry Brooks’ “Sometimes the Magic Works” (Ballantine Books, New York 2003) was back to the proper way to write, with outlines and plans, but he added an important caveat to his advice that my teachers never admited.  It’s ok to write without a plan, it is STILL writing, and writing is the important bit.  The only bit.  His gentle suggestion to organize, outline, and analyze after the story is finished, so you know where you flubbed and need to revise, was the best advice I ever received.  His story of being the rebound guy after Tolkien, and often maligned for being a copy-cat (despite their ways of telling a story being completely different) was a nice added bonus.  Another author’s story of his lucky break gave me hope to someday be so lucky, but I had to write something, first.

Scan_20171127 (14)If fear of failure is your issue, and it’s keeping your butt out of the chair, give “Art & Fear” (Capra Press, Santa Barbara 1993) by David Bayles & Ted Orland a try.  The advice is general, for artists of every type, but the issues we face are nearly identical.  You have the right to express yourself, and it can be a real job–that you are paid to do–if you work to master your medium. Art is work.  Inspiration leads to the drive for mastery, then mastery frees you to work inspired and unfettered.  Put your butt in the chair and write. Become the wordsmith, dialogue master, builder of worlds, and teller of tales.  Breathe out words like air, until you find your writing voice.

Scan_20171127 (2)If inspiration is your problem, then “Writing From the Inner Self” (Harper Perennial, New York 1991) by Elaine Farris Hughes is helpful.  This isn’t a problem of mine, being a victim of too many ideas, but while perusing through the book I discovered many ways of approaching a plot hole or dry patch.  It’s worth having a copy on your self for stuck-in-mental-quicksand days.  There are also thousands of places to get daily writing prompts and inspiration programs. I follow a couple on WordPress and Facebook.

Scan_20171127 (24)If your blocks go deeper, and you have a scientific bent to your thinking, then “The Midnight Disease” (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston 2004) by Alice W. Flaherty digs into the biology, psychology and philosophy of writers and why they write.  She writes as both a neurologist and a person suffering/blessed with hypergraphia.  Some may think she is biased because of her condition, but I think it adds a depth of understanding to the issue of the sometimes fragile/sometimes titanium nature of the writer’s brain.

These are the most helpful of the books that I have read to date on the issue of “Butt in Chair”.  I have “Bird by Bird” on my list, but haven’t managed it yet in the whirlwind of writing, revision, editing, blogging, social branding, and networking I’ve experienced in the last two years.  I’m a big proponent of “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” so I’m keeping my eye out.  (I now have a copy, but it’s not “there” yet.)

I hope you find this list useful.  Next week, unless I get distracted (squirrel!), we will take a look at analyzing your manuscript, tentatively tilted “Monster in My Manuscript.” Until then…

Happy Writing.

The Low-Budget Writing Program:

  1. Butt in Chair
  2. The Monster in My Manuscript
  3. Take Over the Literary World!
  4. When the Manuscript Goes in the Garbage…
  5. Fear is the Mind-Killer
  6. Grammar and Punctuation and Bears! Oh, My!

My Prestigeous, But Low-Budget, Writing Program

 

 

 

For those of you keeping track I napped my way out of the post-finished-manuscript funk after about 48 hours.  For someone who has problems bouncing back from depression I consider that fairly good.  I couldn’t let go of that fictional world, so I spent the last week typing up the short stories that occur about the same time as the main story.  They may never see the light of day, or they could be freebies for those future readers interested in my world.

So now, I am tackling the Editing…

<cue dramatic music>

While I was writing this manuscript, I realized my extremely shaky grasp of spelling (due to undiagnosed dyslexia) and a high school level of grammar (from thirty years ago-eek!) was just not going to cut in the fast-paced World of Publishing, independent or traditional.  So, OCD Capricorn that I am, I studied, I organized, and I thought it through.

The books I found in my local used book store, because I’m broke, were my starting points.  I learned from Stephen King that my new method of writing was OK, even though it was the opposite of what I was taught.  Terry Brooks explained how to do it properly, like I was taught, but to just keep going if that didn’t work.  Christopher Vogler took me on the hero’s journey in a way I understood, while Kim Hudson gave the female counterpoint.  John Warner taught me to laugh with the muse.  Alice W. Flaherty explained exactly what was wrong with my brain to make me a writer.  James Frey helped me push the story deeper, with hooks for the reader.  Noah Lukeman, while rolling his eyes, and in a Sahara dry tone, explained how to not be a total idiot, and bore my readers to death.

Currently, Elizabeth Benedict is explaining to me that it is OK for a book to have sex scenes, while not overdoing it… unless that is what the story needs.  Next on the pile is my very own Strunk & White, just brought home from a used book store like it was the Holy Grail.  (I’m not kidding, angelic voices sang as it was brought into the house.)  Below that is a couple of grammar books, written in catchy ways that will hopefully push past my weird memory blocks, and giving me a better working grasp of rules and modern usages.

I’ve learned a ton of things from these writers, and they have pointed me toward even more books; both about writing and great fiction that I have missed.  My ‘To Read’ list is massive, and judging what is next is becoming impossible.  Still, I persevere, hungry for more.  And frankly, all this newfound knowledge should have ripped my manuscript to pieces.

But, it didn’t.

It tweaked, it clarified, and it deepened.  It showed me ways to reach the reader without hitting them over the head with my ideas.  While I was learning to tell a ‘damn good story’ with words, I kept finding my characters and story, hitting the important points these teachers were making, over and over.  I started to think that I may have something, maybe something good enough for someone else to read, maybe even enjoy.

It gave me hope.

I have stories to tell, and I’m going to do that.  I hope you’ll join me, and tell me some in return.

Do you have any favorite books about writing?