How I Write: How to grow in craft between novels.

Forget about between novels! How about between first draft and revising? And revising again. And throw in a total rewrite! How do we make sure we’re bringing something new to the table keyboard.

Write. Write. Write.

Pretty vague, huh? I think so too. More specifically: free writing, journal writing, writing exercises, writing prompts, letters or diaries from your main character – nothing can take the place of real writing.

Read. Read. Read.

Again, kinda vague. I read a lot too but it wasn’t necessarily improving my craft by leaps and bounds. But there are a few, okay more than a few, books that increased my knowledge of putting words to paper so people want to read them.

Drum roll, please. Or not.

  • Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King (Packed full of good stuff esp. for newbie writers and great reminders for the more experienced.)
  • Story by Robert McKee (OMG Totally awesome! It’s a book filled with screen writing tips and those seem to be the best kind. A bit technical – but loaded with storytelling basics!)
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (Clearly he is the guru of writing craft books, even though I consistently forget the second ‘s’ in his last name. Sorry Mr. Maass. From tension to conflict to characters to making your writing BIG – this is a great resource)
  • Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass. (As an experienced writer I didn’t get as much from the entire book. But there were a couple chapters on scenes and micro tension that made it worth it. In fact, one chapter steered my revision process in a completetly new way.)
  • Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham (This book doesn’t seem to get mentioned a lot. But it breaks down how to use the scene and sequel for pacing. And pacing is a huge reason manuscripts get rejected. – okay I don’t know the break down of why manuscripts get rejected for sure, but it seems pacing can be a bugger.) 

Did you know Jody Hedlund has a page listing books on craft? Check it out. I have to pick and choose which craft books to read or I’d never write.

And this wonderfully interesting amazing post on craft books and classes I’ve taken (not many) would not be complete without mentioning Margie Lawson. I purchased her packet for Empowering Characters’ Emotions and her Deep Edits system. Both worth it. You will be a better writer after her courses.

And, let’s see how many other things I can throw at you. Along with the read, read, read thing is the ‘read and break down, read and break down’ thing. Learning by breaking down published books. Check out Alexandra Sokoloff for details. And check out my post on Dissecting Frogs on the topic.

So, wow, about 400 words later, it’s time to wrap this baby up. What do you do in the inbetween to make sure you are growing as a writer?

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21 Responses to How I Write: How to grow in craft between novels.

  1. Robert Guthrie August 18, 2010 at 6:39 am #

    I often go back to a favorite. Book open to a random page and read that chapter slowly to get all I can from it. For me, it seems like total luxury, total indulgence to focus so intently.

    And on writing: I still get rejuvenation from E.M. Forster’s “Aspects of the Novel”.

  2. kris August 18, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    You’re so good at reading the craft books and really absorbing them. I’ve got to assign myself some writing exercises out of those great books–and make myself do some homework. I learn so much from YOU! 🙂

  3. The Alliterative Allomorph August 18, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    Craft books and I don’t get on very well. I prefer to talk things through, otherwise my brain doesn’t process the info properly!

    Are you a writer? Then you MUST enter this CONTEST!

  4. Kate Stewart August 18, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    Well, today I went to a workshop on editing, which was pretty good and I read and write and blog quite a bit – and the rest of the time I spend on ‘writing sites’ learning from others like you and generally getting support from them.

  5. Nelsa August 18, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    I highly recommend Jack Bickham’s Scene and Sequel book as well. I was having real problems with pacing as I was starting out and this book really helped me to figure that piece of the writing puzzle out.

    I try and take craft workshops through my local chapter of the RWA. Even if you think you’ve got a particular area nailed down there is ALWAYS a nugget that you can add to your skill set. Plus, if they’re good, workshops with fellow writers can get you fired up!

    Great resources, Laura!

    • Laura August 18, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

      Robert – That’s a good idea too. Really reading to learn instead of just reading.

      Kris – I read the craft books but I hardly ever do the writing exercises.

      Jessica – Hey, everyone learns differently. Talking stuff out is a huge help too! Esp. when it comes to plotting!

      Kate – Reading writing blogs is like a whole conf every week!

      Nelsa – We should never stop learning! We can always improve, even in areas we understand! I agree.

  6. Jody Hedlund August 18, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    We were thinking very much alike for our posts today!! 🙂 And I haven’t read the McKee book. I’ll definitely have to take a look at it! Thank you!

    • Laura August 18, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

      Jody – I noticed that our posts were similar too! 🙂

  7. Creepy Query Girl August 18, 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    Girl- I am so envious of your enthusiasm for revising and editing, it makes me want to puke. How do you do it? I hate revising:( *stomps feet* hate it, hate it, hate it! lol. You’ve always got such great insights on the resources and the how and why of it all (which are invaluable to someone like me) Any tips on how to enjoy the process??;)

    • Laura August 18, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

      Katie – I can’t say I love revising, but now that I understand how to go about it better, I embrace it, because I realize that is the only way to hopefully get an agent or editor!

  8. Karen Strong August 18, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    Great post, Laura.

    Just like Nelsa, I love the Bickham’s SCENE AND STRUCTURE craft book. It’s really good.

    Thanks for the other links! I’ll have to check them out.

  9. Laura Pauling August 18, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    Hi Karen – Yes, Scene and Structure – I said Scene and Sequel. I’ll have to fix that!

  10. Laura Marcella August 18, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

    Every writer has different advice and tips that worked for them, but there are two things they all seem to consistently agree upon: read a lot and write a lot!

    I haven’t read any Donald Maass books yet, but everyone seems to love them. I’ll have to check them out!

    To make sure I’m growing as a writer, I take breaks away from the desk and go experience life! I get the best ideas or solutions when I’m far away from writing- though subconsciously I’m always in my writing world! I love journal writing, doing writing prompts and exercises, blogging of course, and reading anything and everything I can get my hands on. Writing books on craft and inspiration are always a great motivational and encouraging boost!

    • Laura August 18, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

      Laura – So true! Getting out and living life is just as important as everything else. We all need to refuel!

  11. Anita Miller August 18, 2010 at 5:25 pm #

    King’s ON WRITING really gave me a unique perspective. I’m not horror at all, but I still learned a lot.

  12. patti August 18, 2010 at 6:25 pm #

    Great list! I would add The Moral Premise!


  13. Ansha Kotyk August 18, 2010 at 7:55 pm #

    How could I forget Self-editing for Fiction Writers? That’s a great book!
    Read, Write, Repeat. 🙂

  14. Julie Musil August 18, 2010 at 7:57 pm #

    I would love to add “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell. I got this book after seeing it on Jody Hedlund’s blog.

    I really need to read Writing the Breakout Novel. I keep hearing about it!

    Thanks for the great tips.

  15. Katie Ganshert August 18, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    Great stuff in this post!

  16. Katie Ganshert August 18, 2010 at 9:37 pm #

    Excellent advice!

  17. Kay McGriff August 18, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Donald Maass books praised. I’m definitely going to try them. For now, I’m still plugging through my first draft of my first novel. I hope some of these resources can motivate me through the revisions.

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