So, you wrote the thing. You know, the infamous vomit draft. It feels good, right? To get all of that off your chest. Off your mind. To finally see it on the page. Well done! Soak it all in. You’ve earned it.
Now, close the file. This is not a drill. Get up and step away from the computer. Take a break, take a shower, feed your cat, call your parents, go to the movies, or visit some friends. It won’t be easy, but you must forget that draft for a while because more work will await you when you open it again.
No need to despair, though. I’ve got you covered for the next phase. Here are the books that will help you turn that block of marble into a skilfully sculpted book.
On Editing: How to Edit Your Novel the Professional Way, by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price (2018)
Plenty of advice about writing conundrums. Be sure to read the “brilliant beginnings and cracking endings” and the “creating and controlling your characters” chapters. No, the character did not make you do it. You did it. But do you know why? That’s part of the job.
“It’s not always advisable to let your characters take control! Whether you are an author who likes to create your characters or one who prefers to get to know them, most of the time you will need to put in some solid leg-work — both into building your character and as the story gets going, into keeping track.”
Line by Line: How to Improve Your Own Writing, by Claire Kehrwald Cook (1985)
A true classic. Also an antidote for lousy prose, baggy sentences, faulty connections, and mismanaging references.
“Sometimes a sentence faults to say what you mean because its elements don’t make the proper connections. Then you have to revise by shuffling the components around, juxtaposing those that should link and separating those that should not. To get your meaning across, you not only have to choose the right words, you have to put them in the right order. Words in disarray produce only nonsense.”
The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface, by Donald Mass (2016)
The clue is in the title. Emotion this, emotional that; this book is all about the feels evoked by a balanced text and the black and white illustrations on the first page of each new chapter. Astronauts, wolves, birds, bearded men, and women with flowers in their heads all show up to teach more about the inner and outer worlds, the emotional journey of the reader, and the emotional journey of the writer. Yes, that’s you. Walking in the dark with wolves as you develop the intuition and techniques to make it out of the writing woods.
“I meet plenty of excellent writers who have become disappointed, detached, cynical, even paranoid, believers in timing, chance, and connections. Here’s the thing, though. When writers approach their craft that way, it shows. You can sense when fiction is masking cynicism or anger. It may read well, but it feels self-conscious. Its spirit is both defiant and desperate. Cynical writing tries too hard.”
The Art of Description: World into Word, by Mark Doty (2010)
A small thin book that almost fits in your pocket but comes packed with tips to expand your world-building abilities.
“It sounds like a simple thing, to say what you see. But try to find words for the shades of a mottled sassafras leaf, or the reflectivity of a bay on an August morning, or the very beginnings of desire stirring in the gaze of someone looking right into your eyes, and it immediately becomes clear that all we see is slippery, nuanced, elusive.”
Write Great Dialogue: How to Write Convincing Dialogue, Conversations and Dialect in Your Fiction, by Irving Weinman (2012)
Where do writers find dialogue? How can the writer avoid dialogue stereotypes in age and gender? How much supporting narrative should a writer use in dialogue? How does dialogue in narrative differ from narrative in dialogue? Huh? I know. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Delve without fear into this well of knowledge about dialogue and surface as a better writer.
“As with general dialogue, the source of writing the dialogue of children and of old people is you. Since we’ve all been children, memory is important. And family can offer the examples of speech in old age. Just listen. In conceiving of their dialogue in your fiction, a good starting point is that children are people. Children may have less experience and less factual knowledge than adults, but this doesn’t make them stupid. The old may move slowly and be hard of hearing, but they have experience and intelligence, and if their short-term memory isn’t as good as it used to be, their long memories can be splendidly detailed.”
There you go. Read one, two, or all of these book pearls if you can. Then take a deep breath, and go back to your writing desk. You’ve got this.
Be sure to check out Nicole Louie’s first installment in this series, 6 Books to Help You Survive the Writing Life here.