A Writer’s Summer Reading List

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Stephen King once mentioned that if you, as a writer, didn’t have time to read, then you didn’t have time to write. Even more recently, at the closing remarks of this year’s NCW writing conference (https://www.northerncoloradowriters.com/) I was reminded by the incomparable Teresa Funke (https://www.teresafunke.com/) that writers who read shouldn’t consider that time ‘wasted’ or a guilty pleasure. Every book we read teaches us something about the craft, our own voice as writers, and provides us with inspiration and information that will be useful in our own projects.

So, as the warmth of lazy days approaches (ha ha–just kidding, if you’re a parent, summers aren’t ever lazy), I’ve compiled a list of books that may be of interest to writers, as well as some good-ol-fashioned brain candy. Let’s be honest, no one wants to spend their summer vacation slogging through a MFA reading list–gag me. The books below should be helpful AND entertaining. Each has been selected because it offers insight to the craft of writing or has brilliant use of good writing…or it’s just plain fun to read.

  1. “On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft” Stephen King: I read this one every year. He’s down to earth, helpful, at times hard-assed, and others vulnerable. A beautiful book.
  2. “The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience” Chuck Wendig: Holy shit snacks… If you haven’t followed Chuck Wendig’s blog (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/)or read ANY of his books, you need to rethink where your life is heading. Part heart-felt genius, part sacrilegious savant, “Kick-Ass” is a fun and mildly irreverent romp through the derelict world of writing and I can’t love the man’s sense of humor or talent more.
  3. “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” V.E. Schwab: I told you it wasn’t all about writing manuals. This book is poetically beautiful, curious and heart wrenching. It’s a little tragic, a little romantic, and has just enough magic realism to make you feel like you’re cheating on your homework by reading it. Schwab also does a beautiful job transitioning through time, space, and POV.
  4. “Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You” Ray Bradbury: I’d like to think, because we share a birthday, some of his playful brilliance will soak into my brain by some sort of weird Zodiac osmosis…hasn’t happened yet. This book is full of good advice, and assurances that the writing mind is not meant to be ‘normal’ and also that writing what we love, even if it’s labeled as low-brow or ‘not literary’ is more important than trying to get our books into an MFA program. As Bradbury says: “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”
  5. “Save The Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need” Blake Snyder. Is it the last book on screenwriting I’ll ever need? Probably not. But even if you’re not a screenwriter this book has good information about story beats, plotting, character development and writing a story that audiences (your readers) will both love and be satisfied with. On a side note, if you’ve ever wanted to write a book that may someday transition to film, this is a great book to check out in understanding the process of writing a compelling story that live audiences will love.
  6. “Bursts of Brilliance for a Creative Life” Teresa R Funke. https://www.teresafunke.com/ This book is not just a boost of energy and inspiration, it’s a good ‘life skills’ book. We all need to know that our ideas matter, that it is possible to pursue our dreams and find the time to make them a reality, but this book offers helpful insights on how to do it and why it’s so imperative that we do. Teresa is not only a brilliant author but an amazing, down-to-earth, and kind human who has enough experience in the world of writing to know what she’s talking about.

Well, there you have it. I hope you get to read some of these this summer. If you don’t, I encourage you to pick up a few books in your genre and a few outside of it. See what you can learn. Even–try something out of your scope of practice (Non-fiction/Fiction) and see how the other half lives. Something is to be gained from every page we take in. Happy reading out there!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: #17 Drunk and In Charge of A Bicycle (or How We Should Be Approaching Life in Difficult Times)

Before anyone gets their knickers in a quandary… (see, fancy words are still running over from last week)…I am not, nor have a I ever been (well maybe once but it was completely unintentional and never repeated), drunk and in charge of a bicycle.

Bradbury_2240962bThat line actually comes from an Irish Police report retold by Ray Bradbury in his book, “Zen in the Art of Writing”. Bradbury was talking about the way we approach storytelling and writing, and that is: drunk with life and not knowing where off to next. Such a trip, he wrote, is one half terror and exactly one half exhilaration.

So many schools of thought exist on how best to write your novel or short story. Plan it out, with all of the beautiful arcs, subplots, crises and climaxes, and scientifically bring it home with a satisfying resolution.

Or just write it, in wobbling paces of exhilaration and stumbling wrecks of metal and wheels.

One brings about better structure and fewer injuries…er…plot holes. It also makes the revision process shorter.

The other burns with uninhibited joy and rides the coaster of character dilemmas into the natural hills and valleys of human failure. It is organic and creative, and often a bitch to edit.

I tend to believe that not every writer is always one or the other. Usually, it is a balance between the two…much like riding a bike. The drunk part comes in when we let go of the inhibitions that close down creativity, and/or let our work be curtailed by criticism. Self or otherwise.

This is a time of both terror and not knowing what will come next. A less playful and lighthearted scenario than Bradbury probably meant.

All around us, voices are shouting and arguing. Outside there is a divisive and angry cloud, smothering the world. We are beset from all sides with advice about what we should do, should be doing, should have, should not have, what to feel guilty about, what to embrace…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

etc
Come on…”The King and I”? This is classic stuff! Yule Brenner! Somebody better be impressed.

We run the risk of letting all of these limitations and confusing ‘advice’ smother the bumbling beauty of writing the stories and characters that intrigue and bring us joy.

It doesn’t all have to be hard-hitting commentary. Let’s face it, we’re in the midst of the first three story arcs of a dystopian novel already. And if we know anything from those story lines, it’s that the true worth of the human race is often preserved in the beauty and art we are capable of.

Writing, drunk in love with the art, is Katniss putting flowers on Rue’s grave, and Peeta painting sunsets while other tributes throw spears around him. It’s Tris not choosing any one trait to define her, but embracing the balance of being a little bit of everything.

 

It’s in the saving of books instead burning them.book burning

So, the exercise is simple.

Write.

This week write. Something beautiful. Something true. Fly by the seat of your pants and damn the torpedos (yeah, I mixed my metaphors, what of it?)

Find a reason to fall back in love with your art, your characters, your world. Find a reason for us to go on. Shut the door and unplug the news, and try embracing something other than the fear and hatred that have become our everyday.

What will save the human race will be the dreamers who live, half in terror, half in exhilaration, and not knowing, exactly where we’re off to next, but knowing its beauty is only limited by our imaginations.

That takes the kind of courage rarely seen in the world today.