I’m always looking for good how-to-write books.
While convalescing at home from a sickness this summer, I edited and rewrote a manuscript that I finished in March. After writing a middle-grade mystery/adventure series, writing a new story involving adult-themed murder and intrigue embedded in the societal issues of ocean trash and homelessness (no kidding) was certainly different. I wrote it in first person, meaning that the story is told from the perspective of the main character, which was a good trick since I normally write in the third person narrator.
After I finished my latest draft and sent it to my publisher (he and I had already reviewed one draft), I bought a writing book from Amazon, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, by Donald Maass. Mr. Maass is a veteran literary agent, author, and workshop presenter. He’s probably read a million books in his lifetime and has a firm grip on what he expects a successful and meaningful book to contain.
This is the first how-to-write book that caused me to immediately stop reading, go to my computer, and change a finished manuscript. I then returned to reading the book, went through a few pages more, stopped, went to my computer and made more changes to my manuscript. I finally used a notebook to record the changes I wanted to make instead of interrupting my reading to do them. By the end of the night, I sent a note to my editor telling him to stop reading the manuscript I had sent him because everything was different. It took a week to complete a new draft of the manuscript to replace the previous one. I made forty-two changes (some of them fundamental and extensive) and every change made it better.
I am wildly enthusiastic about Mr. Maass’s book. I’m not sure it’s for beginning writers; it takes a little seasoning to really appreciate it. On the other hand, I recommend it as a “must read” for writers, whenever they can get to it.
Here are a couple of quotes that will give you an idea of the style that Mr. Maass uses:
“The spirit that you bring to your writing desk either infects your pages or enlivens them. Your story events either oppress or excite. Your characters either inspire or leave us indifferent. The difference comes not from your story choices but from you. How you feel inside is how we will feel in reading.”
“In some ways the most important work you do in writing your novel is the work you do on yourself. Everyone knows how difficult writing can be. We’ve all read the blog posts about writer’s block, despair, envy, conflicting roles, crashes, recovery, and ways to stay inspired. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I mean is your fundamental outlook, your positive spirit, your embrace of goodness, your faith in humanity. It shows in your generosity, not in supporting your writing friends, but in granting strength to your characters and filling their hearts with expectation.
Some people may read fiction to be frightened, but they never read it to be brought down. They may wish to be challenged, but they don’t want to be crushed. They may read for amusement, but they still have heart. They do seek an emotional experience, as I’ve said, but they also want to come away feeling positive.”
If you are a writer or want to be one, this book is worth reading. I strongly believe it will make you better at telling your story.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.