Monday, April 25, 2011

Writing Journal: Guides and Inspiration

I still consider myself new to being a writer, but the truth is, I've been dabbling with it in a half-assed way for a few years, and have thought about becoming a writer for ages before that.  It's only recently that I decided to become serious enough about being a writer that I began know, actually write.

But as I was building up to my commitment, I spent time trying to get input on the best ways to go about becoming a writer.  I'm an engineer by trade -- I rely on being able to find facts, data, and information to help me do my job, and also have a good piece of book learnin' under my belt, too. So it was only natural that as my thoughts of becoming a writer began percolating, I started nosing around for guides and instruction manuals and sources of helpful inspiration.

Of course, I realize that like guitar, driving, basketball, video games, or almost any activity you really want to improve in, the only real way to become a better writer is to practice.  You can't be a decent guitar player if you don't put in the time putting your fingers on the strings, and you can't become a decent writer if you're not putting words on the page.  This is the time-honored 'BITS' method of writing -- get your Butt In The Seat and start writing.  

But you still need input on the proper way to go about things, right?  Besides getting the instructions on the basics like sentence structure and grammar, I think there is also a need for guides, advice, and inspiration.  So for this edition of my writing journal, I thought I'd share some of the ones I've found that have stuck with me.

There are hundreds of possible books and guides for writers, but these are some of the ones that I admire and that have most resonated with me.  All of these are probably familiar to most writers, but if you're new to this and have any inclination of ever becoming a writer, I strongly recommend that you check these out.

  • First is a basic set of rules, first laid down in 1947 by Robert Heinlein.  He devised five simple rules that are still pertinent for a writer today.  Science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer has a great article from 1996 covering these rules, and adding a sixth of his own: Heinlein's Rules for Writing, Compiled by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Next is a fabulous book that may not be a specific list of rules, but illustrates the process and history that Steven King has used to propel him to become one of the most prolific and successful writers of all time: On Writing.  This is a great read for any wanna-be writer.
  •  Ray Bradbury also has a tremendous collection of essays about writing, Zen in the Art of Writing.  This is more inspirational than how-to, but it is a great read for any aspiring writer.
  • A quick, quirky book of ten simple, but surprisingly deep rules is Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing.  This is a book that you can easily read while browsing (and if you search, you can probably find the whole thing verbatim on the web, since it was originally published in the New York Times), but it is a great mix of straight-forward advice that will stick with you for a while.  Or, at least it should, if you want to be a writer and avoid the dreaded hooptie-doodle.
  • Finally, for a much more nuts-and-bolts kind of guide, I heartily recommend Chris Roerden's Don't Murder Your Mystery.  As a writer who likes to dabble in mystery and suspense, this is right up my alley, but this excellent book also has tremendous advice applicable to any style of writing, with copious examples to illustrate her points.

Good reading, and especially -- good writing!


Julia Munroe Martin said...

Thanks for some great books to check out -- I am especially interested in the nuts-and-bolts one about mysteries. Great post!

Chris Fries said...

Thanks, Julia! Glad you enjoyed it.

I consider each one of these excellent resources in their own way, but I especially like "Don't Murder Your Mystery" as an excellent 'how to write' book. She also has a somewhat updated version called, "Don't Sabogtage Your Submission," which is expanded to cover any type of first-novel submission.