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.
I had the special and rare opportunity to have a monthly lunch with a friend for over two years.
It was always on the first Friday of each month. I would pick him up at his house, we would both attend a writers’ discussion group at a local community building, and then we would go to the Sage Restaurant in Albuquerque, a Chinese affair only two blocks from the building in which our group met. He would consistently try something different, while I always ordered Chicken Egg Foo Yung. I love the stuff.
For both of us, though we enjoyed the writers’ group, it was the lunch that we came for and the joy that often resulted from it.
It is a precious thing to have a friend in whom you delight and can talk with at length about anything. Mostly we talked about writing – inspiration, perception, fascination with words and stories, how to improve, how to change, how to be a better writer and a better person – but we also talked about dreams and futures and the pursuit of happiness.
My friend died last Tuesday and our lunches have come to an end.
I am sorrowful and I grieve for him, but I grieve for me that something precious has slipped through my hands and I am not likely to find another companion like him. He was a unique and special person and so am I, giving us an affinity for being easy, laid back, and yet well-spoken and direct. For my part, I was a good listener when he had sage advice and an almost always original perspective on particular subjects, and for his part, he always appreciated the tidbits of information that I would have found on the web, from my latest readings, or from the dark reaches of my mind.
He was a famous person and there have already been articles and letters extolling him as a world figure with a reach that touched thousands of people, but my memories will be of those special times when we shared meals and became family.
We truthfully enjoyed each other and I miss him already.
One note: for the two blogs in which I mentioned Ursula K. Le Guin, I never once spelled her name correctly. I apologize. With that apology, I also want to say that I have begun reading her book The Wave in the Mind and I am enthralled with her writing style, her straight forward talk, and her perception of the truth. She must have been a fascinating person.
One last note: I have not written my blog lately. I have found it hard to write while having physical pain; it’s hard to concentrate and very hard to be authentic without whining. I am doing better these days and hope to now write on a regular basis.
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.