Friday, July 28, 2017

Stephen King's Advice On Writing

Stephen King’s, On Writing, is very different then the three books I mentioned in my previous blog. It is primarily a memoir of the craft and written in a grittier, down to earth style.

In the forward, he states, “What follows is an attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it’s done. It’s about the day job; it’s about the language.”

The book starts with information about his childhood and early career. Like most writers, he received plenty of rejection slips. After page 103, he discusses the basic tools of the writing trade.

He states that most books about writing are nonsense. “One notable exception to the bullshit rule is The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E. B. White.” His favorite rule from that book is “Omit needless words.”

As a reader, I agree with his following two comments:

  1. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
  2. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”

To him (and to many of us) books are portable magic. Whether you prefer reading or listening, you can take books with you almost anywhere.

About nouns and verbs, he writes, “Take any noun, put it with any verb, and you have a sentence.” Easy, right? But he continues. “We are talking about tools and carpentry, about words and style … but as we move along, you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.”

Later in the book, he repeats that idea. “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

I have to admit, I am not a fan of books that frighten me and King’s generally do that. I have read a few, besides his writing book. He definitely has a way with words.

I don’t think it is necessary to list Stephen King’s books. More than 350 million copies have been sold. He has written horror, suspense, science fiction, fantasy and non-fiction, as well as approximately 200 short stories. Many of his books have been international best sellers.

He has written under pen names and also plays in a band with other writers.

Again, I will ask if you have any favorite writing books you want to mention, feel free. I love to learn more and may write a blog about recommendations later.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Favorite Books about Writing

Besides reading a wide variety of books, as part of learning their craft, writers also read writing books. This blog and my next include brief information from some of my favorite books about writing.
Anne Lamott
I loved Anne Lamott’s unusual sense of humor and use of personal experiences and embarrassments in her book, Bird by Bird, Instructions on Writing and Life. She said that some of the advantages of being a writer  if you are shy, is that you get to stay home and still be public.

“You don’t have to dress up “and you can’t hear them boo you right away.”
Lamott used the quote, “A critic is someone who comes onto the battlefield after the battle is over and shoots the wounded.” She could not remember right then who said it, but I googled it and the quote was from author Murray Kempton.

This book was written with a casual approach. You feel like she is talking to you, not teaching.
She wrote about her father dying and later her best friend Pam’s losing battle with cancer. She was able to let each of them read the books before they died. They were like love letters, she said, part of their immortality.

Despite the sad subjects of her first books, she sprinkled her advice and opinions with humor.
When looking for help about parenting her son, the only books she could find were “nicey-nice” and rational. They didn’t work for her.

 “Having a baby is like suddenly getting the world’s worst roommate, like having Janis Joplin with a bad hangover and PMS come to stay with you,” she said.
Searching for a book that was more realistic, she was discouraged that she couldn’t find one.

“So I went ahead and started writing one myself, as a present, as a kind of road map for other mothers,” she said.
Lamott is the author of seven novels and 10 non fiction books. She received the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985 and was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2010.

 Natalie Goldberg
Another book I enjoyed was Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within, by  Natalie Goldberg

A practitioner of Zen, her writing is low key, yet humorous. She taught seminars on writing as a spiritual practice for several decades. She reminds people that writing is inexpensive. All you need is pen, paper (or computer) and the human mind.
Her short chapters have unusual titles such as Writing is not a MacDonald’s Hamburger, Composting and Don’t Marry the Fly.

Goldberg recommends keeping notebooks and writing every day, especially what she calls “first thoughts.”
“First thoughts have tremendous energy,” she said, suggesting:

·         keep the hand moving 

·         don’t worry about spelling , punctuation, grammar

·          lose control

·         don’t get logical

·         go for the jugular

The book includes lots of good advice, including “practice, practice, practice,” and “just get it on paper.”
I’ve read several of her books. Another one that stood out for me was Long Quiet Highway. I loved the sentence length variations, especially a long road description that made me feel like I was on the trip with her.

“You are alone when writing a book,” she wrote. “Accept that and take in any love and support that is given to you, but don’t have expectations of how it is supposed to be.”
Lynne Truss
Okay, I have to mention one more book, just briefly. Years ago, I read the British bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves, The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. Hilarious! It is unusual to find the words proper punctuation and funny in the same description of a book, but this one has both.

Truss showed why the comma is important when she used the title phrase Eats, Shoots & Leaves, There is a big difference between a panda bear that eats shoots and leaves and a bad one who eats, shoots (someone or something) and leaves the area.
She has many other hilarious examples throughout the book, but she is serious about the use of correct punctuation. Keep in mind that this book is British, and may include some punctuation rules that are different from those in the U.S., but most are the same.

What an enjoyable way to remember the importance of correct punctuation.
If you want to recommend a writing book, please do. I enjoy reading different types of books.