Writing Tools: Book, Blurb & Collage

Writing Tools Collage.jpg

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, Writing Tools, written by Roy Peter Clark. A great tool for any writer looking to hone their craft.  High-res version of the image is right here.

 

Another book read, another set of shiny pencils to toss into the toolbox.   Writing Tools, written by Roy Peter Clark, is a book I would highly recommend.  The book provides you with, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (which is emblazoned on the cover).

writing tool book.jpgEach strategy is a chapter/section of its own, and I found them to be very easy to read and understand.  Clark uses examples from published works to emphasize points and support his writing.  The quotes I placed in the photo are some of the one-liners he provides at the opening of his chapters.

Additionally, this book offers some really interesting tools and tips to work through common issues writers face.  I have referenced his work in past blog posts—most notably his strategy for busting up clichés (located here).

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this book is the sheer amount of well-written content.  Many of the non-fiction writing books I own have twenty chapters or so.  Some of those books stretch out concepts to fill space (at least that’s how it feels to me sometimes).  This book is very concise with information because it tackles fifty topics.

Topics range wildly but are organized into four main parts.  Starting with the basics of grammar, punctuation, syntax, style, and usage, the author then begins to build on those basics.  Showing you how to achieve effects with these rules and make them work with you.  The idea is you need know the rules so you can manipulate them.  I love this kind of thinking.

[Editor’s Note]

This book continues to be a staple for me both as a writer and an editor.  When I work with clients, especially when they are working with a new manuscript, I like to address issues with potential solutions.  This book is handy because the material is condensed and easy to share.  I’ve used the contents within this book more than once during video and phone conversations with clients to help them understand why certain things they are doing go against the grain.  I’ve also used it to illustrate stylistic opportunities they could take advantage of to enhance their story.  It seems easier for folks to accept advice when the viewpoint is reinforced by other professionals.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Zen in the Art of Writing: Book, Blurb & Collage

Zen in the Art of Writing.jpg

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, Zen in the Art of Writing, written by Ray Bradbury. Clicking the image will take you to a higher-res version on my Flickr page.  This collage was created by me and is free to share.   

 

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is one of the most enjoyable call-to-action type books I’ve flipped through.  I know, I say that a lot.  But heck, it feels like Bradbury is slapping you on the back while you read this and whispering, “you got this,” from the grave. Before I get into the meat of the book, you can give it a glance on [Amazon] or [goodreads] if you would like.

A quick aside.  I purchased this book on Amazon, but purchased a used version.  It came to me from some small bookstore.  When I flipped it open…jackpot!  There was a message written on the inside cover.  I don’t know about all of you, but I love stuff like this.  Here is the message:

Erin,

Bradbury shares well, and with wit, the timeless creative spirit, objective and true. This work reminds me of the eternity I see in your eyes, in you. May it find and inspire your creative self well.

Joe

Joe, if you are reading this, I’m sorry man.  It looks like Erin was not impressed by Bradbury and sold the book despite your inspiring words.  I enjoyed the book though.

zen in the art of writing.jpgErin, if you accidentally misplaced this book, shoot me a message and I’ll get it back to you.  I hope you did find your creative self.  If you did sell this book, I hope you fall off your bike and knock out your two front teeth!  Okay, I hope nothing that bad happens, but sheesh, have a heart.

*Corey considers deleting the previous insanity then shrugs his shoulders instead*

Back to the book!  Bradbury’s book was very different than most call-to-action type books I’ve read.  There is a surge of energy behind his words and a contagious optimism.  Yes, he is realistic about some of the challenges, but there is still an undertone of positive lightning.

Bradbury offers a ton of takeaways and recommendations.  Some of them seem insane, and some of them make a lot of sense to me.  I’ve listed a spattering of them below.  They have been ordered from least insane to most.

  1. Write every day.
    I like it.  Doesn’t have to be a WIP, but at least keep your fingers moving.  I even count these blog posts as part of my writing regiment.
  2. Read every day.
    Right on Ray!  You’ve got to eat your greens and gorge on desserts every now and then.
  3. Get out in the world and experience life to enrich your writing.
    As a hermit, this is hard to digest.  But I wasn’t always a hermit.  There was a time I sailed the oceans, traveled the world, spied on terrorists, and chased criminals.  I wrote a post a while back about how Herman Melville’s style and voice changed after he signed up to be a crew member on a whaling boat. It worked out well for him when he wrote Moby Dick.
  4. Utilize word association to generate interesting ideas.
    This is my kid of weird, literary science.  Bradbury has a list of crazy words and phrases he used to help generate fun ideas and concepts. He encourages the writer to choose things that resonate with them on some level and play with the concepts.
  5. A Refined ListActivate the readers senses.
    This is great advice.  It could have populated any of these first spots on this list.
  6. Make the skeletons in your childhood closet dance.
    This is probably great advice for some, but I had an awesome childhood.  Growing up on a farm and playing in the woods.  For me, this is a well with no water to pull out. But for some of you, this might be an exploding geyser.
  7. Write a short story every week for at least five years.
    For some of you, this is no sweat (I’m looking at you, Andrew and SDS).  For me, this seems a little intimidating, but hey, I can’t argue that it wouldn’t be effective.
  8. Play with story ideas for years before you bother trying to write them.
    This one is a bit harder for me.  Bradbury talks about twenty to thirty years being an okay amount of time to let a story marinate in your brain.  I guess because I write post-apocalyptic fiction I assume the world will have ended by then…
  9. Write like a man/woman possessed by the gods.
    At first I thought, heck yeah Ray—write the words, all of them!  Then he talked about how he would write the first draft on a Monday, the second on a Tuesday, and so on until the story was ready to mail out on Saturday.  While this was likely regarding short stories, and not full-length novels, this is still a tremendous pace.  I’m not sure I will ever be confident/skilled enough to pull this off even for a short story.

I know I almost always say, “This is a great book,” but this has become one of my favorites.  Between Ray’s shout-outs to his cats, to his infectiously positive prose, it’s hard to not find yourself giving him high-fives from beyond the grave while you flip through it.  If I am feeling cynical and need a boost, I’ll read On Writing, Bird by Bird, or Writing Past Dark.  If I’m feeling good, but want a couple extra jolts of inspiration—this is the book.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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The War of Art: Book, Blurb & Collage

War-of-Art-Part-2

This book spot is a bit sentimental for me as it’s the first one I ever posted here on QE.  I’m recycling it because when I initially posted it four months ago I didn’t have much of a following.  On a side note, the image up above (which I talk about in a second) is what inspired me to take select quotes and compile them into collages for this webpage.

Now to the original post…with a couple additions at the end.

I found this beautiful collage while searching for the cover of the book, The War of Art.   Steven Pressfield wrote the book and I’ve found it to be a solid call-to-action type read.  The collage above comes from Sunni Brown, and I linked it to their website.

Sunni Brown, the owner of this image and creator/owner of the linked website, offers some amazing eCourses.  If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to be a creative taker of notes, these courses will be right up your lane.  For me, I find doodling notes really helps cement the concept material in my mind.  It was also the source of much scolding during my younger years.

war of art.jpgBack to the book!  If you were considering snagging The War of Art, I would encourage you to do so.  It’s a look at the struggle writers face as they pit themselves against the many obstacles they encounter.  It also works to highlight what differentiates a wannabe writer from a professional one.

“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t.  When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us.  The Muse takes note of our dedication.  She approves.  We have earned favor in her sight.  When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings.  Ideas come.  Insights accrete” (p. 108).

I don’t know if I believe in the “us versus them” mentality of a writer versus a wannabe writer.  In my opinion, if you are writing, you are a writer.  I don’t care if you never publish a word.  If your words somehow find a way to influence the way a person thinks or feels, that’s worth more than monetary reward.  Heck, if the writing is just for you, you’re still a writer.  After all, this blog isn’t making me rich (unless you count the $2.30 I’ve made from Amazon referrals…cha-ching!), but I sure enjoy sharing insights and collaborating.

[Update] Despite this being a book I read a while ago, it still holds up for me as a book that offered me inspiration.  I remember struggling with aspects of Wastelander: The Drake Legacy, and thinking of passages from this book to help motivate me to finish.

QE from four months ago forgot to mention the premise of the book.  It’s written like a series of letters to a friend.  Each letter addresses a way to fight Resistance (I know Thomas, there’s a purpose for the capitalization though).

To Pressfield, Resistance is basically anything that gets in the way of you completing your work.  Resistance is capitalized because Pressfield works to enforce the idea that distractions and self-doubt are universal forces conspiring against you.  They are the enemy that must be defeated to reach your potential.

The War of Art now lives in my bathroom.  It’s written like a daily devotional, so it really is the perfect bathroom companion.  Plus, with a book, I don’t have to worry about dropping my cell phone in the toilet…not saying that’s ever happened to me.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read, you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Bird by Bird: Book, Blurb & Collage

bird by bird, Anne Lamott.jpg

This is a quote collage I tossed together to highlight some of the content from the book.  Clicking the image will send you over to Flickr where you can view it in high-res.  This is free to share and use however you would like.

I finished reading Anne Lamott’s, Bird by Bird, a couple weeks ago and am happy to share it with all of you today.  This is a call-to-action book about writing that I would highly recommend.  It was suggested to me by theherdlesswitch, here on the blog.  Thanks for pointing me toward such a fun book.

bird by bird.jpgIf you’re unfamiliar with Lamott’s voice and style, it’s witty and has some kick to it.  For me, that’s always a plus.  What she does amazingly well is talk from the heart about the struggles most writers face (more on that in a second).  It’s unapologetic, truthful, and very easy to connect with.

Given I’ve read a gazoodle (a number more than ten and less than twenty) call-to-action books now, many of the subjects she covers have been tread upon before.  As with many of these autobiographical type writing books, she pulls from personal experiences to drive her agenda.  For me, it was an effective and entertaining read.

I will say that Lamott often makes it feel like writing is akin to having your skin peeled from your body while being whipped with lemon-soaked rags.  With that being said, if you are riding the euphoric waves of writing right now, you may feel slightly disconnected from the content of this book.  But eventually (and unfortunately) those waves are going to likely break and the riptides of self-doubt, jealousy, and self-loathing are going to start pulling on your ankles.  When that happens, this book might just be what you need to stay afloat.

The book is broken down into four main sections (1) Writing, (2) The Writing Frame of Mind, (3) Help Along the Way, and (4) Publication—And Other Reasons to Write.

Corey Truax.jpg

One of my photos from back in the day.  Marines carried rocks to build land bridges to allow vehicles to reach a village that had been destroyed by a mudslide in the Philippines in 2006. 

Personally, I really enjoyed her insights on publication.  My focus is often on pushing the product to publication, and I think we all have varying expectations when it comes to this.  Back when I was a military journalist, I can remember when a story I wrote was circulated globally for the first time.  News outlets from around the world began snatching up the story and publishing it.

Guess what though, no one really cared.  Network news didn’t email me and ask me to come work for them when I got out of the Navy.   Half of those places stripped my name from photos and the story and replaced it with, “Courtesy of U.S. Navy.”  The friends I grew up with didn’t start flooding my inbox with virtual congratulations.  Now, I can’t even find those news stories when I search for them online—I can only find the corresponding photographs I took to accompany them.  I tossed one on here for you all to check out.

That was my first taste of publication “glory” and it wasn’t the last time this would happen.  My expectations for my current works (Wastelander and the novella) are tapered by these experiences.  Books like, Bird by Bird, really force us to look at our current works with realistic expectations and understand the struggles we face as writers are struggles that are shared collectively.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Write to Market: Book, Blurb & Collage

Write to Market, Chris Fox.jpg

Some of my indie friends requested that I start doing more research regarding publishing and marketing books.  To this end, I recently finished reading Write to Market by Chris Fox.  At 100 pages this book now takes the top spot on my, “Shortest Books On Writing,” list (coming to a blog near you).  It edged out The Elements of Style by a whopping five pages!

Now before I talk about this book I want to say two things:

  1. This book is not about marketing a preexisting book.  It is about gauging the market and writing a book to meet market demand.
  2. This concept is probably going to make some of you want to raise a ruckus and talk about how this method of writing is an author selling his/her soul for a buck (or multiple bucks).

When I started reading this book my feet were planted firmly in the second category.  I read the first ten percent of this book (ten pages) and was less than impressed.  Mostly because I thought this was a book on marketing a preexisting book, and also because I felt like writing a book for someone other than myself was akin to punching kittens.

Ethos, pathos, logos

As I continued to read I felt myself being persuaded.  Fox was offering a sound argument packed with ethos, pathos, and logos.  Here are a few points to help you gauge if this book is for you or not.  I’m not going to share too much content because this book is so short.

  • This book is current.  It offers advice that can be applied now.  This makes it a strong reference text.
  • This book is written by a successful indie author specifically for other indie authors.
  • This book is short.  It isn’t packed with exposition.  It is packed with useful tools to leverage online sources and listing tools to examine the writing market.
  • Fox shows you how to use Amazon and other online tools to examine your genre for trends.
  • Fox explains how tracking trends in your genre and writing a book that fits popular demand isn’t really selling out.
  • Fox explains if you want to write and make money, write books people want to read.
  • If you don’t care about making money, write purely for yourself.

Those last two bullets probably have some of you getting ready to beat on your keyboards.  I’ve thought about it over the last few days and this is what I have come up with.  If I would apply this books principles this would be my basic process (there’s more to it in the book).

  1. I outline my book premise.  Then stop.
  2. Use tools provided in book to research genre.
  3. Find the top 20-100 books of my genre.
  4. Read reviews and examine story elements.
  5. Find what unites these books in popularity.
  6. Take the story I was already going to write, and apply some of those elements.
  7. I have written to market.

lookingExample:  I write post-apocalyptic fiction.  So I research the market and see what is popular.  Not just now, but over the last few months.  I look at those books and find what the repeat elements are.  Standard zombies are out, mutant zombies are in.  City scenes are out, fantasy lands are in.

I look at the failed books.  Again, what are the repeat elements?  A group of survivors led by a male protagonist is a story line that is getting old.  They are also getting tired of the whole, “Ushering the mad scientist to the lab of glory to save the world story line.” Okay cool.

I take the story I was already going to write and tweak it in just a few areas to fit market demand and write it.  That’s really it.  Is writing the story you wanted to write, but adding an element readers want to read make you a sell out?  That’s for you to decide.

[Begin Rant Here]

Fisticuffs.jpgHere’s my opinion.  I want to tell my story and I want people to read it.  I also would like to make money.  Because money is good (i.e. pays bills, feeds my family, legitimizes the time spent slaving away).

If I’m cracking some beers open with my cop or military buddies, our stories often turn toward past exploits.  If I would tell my parents those same stories, I would likely tell them in a slightly different way (less vulgarity, drunkenness, and belly laughter).  I want to share those stories, but I also want to be mindful of the listener.  To do this I place a filter on the story.  It’s the same story, but with slight modifications.

I think if we are honest, we all do this to some extent.  At least in the context of how we conduct ourselves with different people.  As long as we aren’t sociopaths about it, it’s normal.  We do this in our daily life, but for some reason we are compelled to take an ethical stand on the stories that could put bread on the table.  If the story is designed to be read by others, shouldn’t we ensure we know what others want to read?

I understand that I’m a noob writer.  I’m not going to sway the market with my stories.  Maybe when one of us is a multi-platinum New York Times best-seller of destiny we will be able to push readers one way or the other.  So for now, I’m not going to try to change the flow of a river.  I’m going to test the waters (market) and float explosives (books) down it to blow the dam to smithereens (readers minds).  At least that’s my plan…

[End Rant]

write to marketAt 100 pages this book is thought provoking.  Your alternative to gauge market trends is Writer’s Market 2016, which is a soul crushing 868 pages.  It can also heat your home the following year because it will be outdated.

If you are curious about market trends, marketing a future book, or just want to be more educated in regards to authors who write to match market trends, I would encourage you to pick this book up.  What are your thoughts?  Do you feel matching a book’s content to meet market trends is bad mojo?  I’ve shared my thoughts, I’d be curious to know yours.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Writing Past Dark: Blurb, Book, Collage

Writing Past Dark (final).jpg

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, Writing Past Dark, written by Bonnie Friedman.  As usual, you can click the image, or go here, to view it in higher resolution on my Flickr.  And as always, it’s made by me and free to share.

 

Writing Past Dark, written by Bonnie Friedman, is sure to stir up the inner writer inside of you.   For you folks who are already relentlessly pounding away on the keyboard, you will find more fuel to stoke your inspirational furnace and keep the monsters at bay.   After all, most of us deal with writing demons.  They chase away the muse and leave us jaded.  This book will help you smite those black eyed beasts.

At 146 pages, you will roll through this one in no time at all.  Friedman uses personal anecdotes to drive you through the books core concepts.  Her style and voice are very appealing and I found myself swept along by her words.

writing past dark.jpgAs someone who struggles with their own writing demons, and works daily to help others find the light, I found the sections on Writer’s Disease, Distraction, How to Get the Meaning In, and Why We Can’t Write to be the most impactful.

What resonated for me in this book was the heart of the writer – Friedman.  Some authors have a way of connecting with the reader on a very deep and personal level.  Friedman snagged me early and wouldn’t let go.  Again, if you are struggling with the craft, this book might just be what you need.  And given the short length it’s not a huge investment of time.

I‘m always looking for new books!  Especially books about the craft.  Is there one you were thinking about but haven’t pulled the trigger on buying yet?  Let me know – my trigger finger is always itchy and Amazon is a click away.  As for now, I have another weapon to use against the darkness.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Blurb & Collage

3AM Epiphany.jpg

If you click the image, you will be teleported to my Flickr.  This is where it lives in high resolution.  As always, it was created by me and is free to share and use for your own nefarious purposes.


Another great week, another great book read.  The 3 A.M. Epiphany, by Brian Kiteley, was an unexpected gift from my wife.  When I saw the cover, I assumed it was a book about writing dream journals, something which I’ve talked about here.  It’s actually a book jam-packed with amazing writing prompts.  Really well crafted ones at that.

If you are a flash fiction aficionado, a novelist in a rut, or just someone who wants to expand the way they think about fiction and writing, you will find many useful exercises on these pages.  What is refreshing about this book is that it isn’t so much a book on how to write – it’s a book on ideas for you to write from.  It forces you to abandon the concept that you don’t have any thoughts to work from by offering you hundreds of them.

3AM Epiphany.jpgWith more than 200 well written and explained writing prompts to work from it provides a rough outline for you to apply your personal touch.  Categories range from serious topics, to the absolute insane ones.  It even provides you a template to generate your own writing prompts (something a blogger could make good use of – not me though).

Overall, I’m happy to own this book (especially considering its source).  While I certainly haven’t worked through all the exercises, I did read them.  Even just reading them really broadened my range when it comes to story telling.  As writers we tend to focus on what is familiar.  This book challenges you to step out of your comfort zone and add dimension and depth to your craft.  Add this to you free writing routing (which I’ve talked about before here) and you will have yourself a powerful combination.

That’s it for today.  Do you know of a writing book I should be reading?  Let me know!  I’m always on the hunt for more greens to round out my diet.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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