I have come to a point in my writing career at which I must admit my addiction. Oh, sure, there are worse vices, compulsions, and irrational behavioral problems than what I face. And to be honest, I really have no intention of changing.
However, it is time to get organized.
I have read a lot of books on the craft of writing. Today, I place them in a rough syllabus for further study. All of these titles contain valuable lessons and bits of inspiration. They are like family to me; often arguing and bickering to the point of ridiculousness. Sometimes, as I watch the debate, I see what many of the authors don’t seem to recognize--they agree more often than they think. In many cases it is a matter of semantics and syntax as much as true disagreement. There are complementary layers of greatness in these books on how to write fiction.
My goal has always been to learn what I need to write well from the combined tenets of all the best writing coaches I can find. So here is the list in the order I am currently studying them (with no attempt to reveal which is my favorite; it is merely where I am starting today):
Story Trumps Structure (by Steven James)
I had the chance to listen to this author speak at OWFI and later started reading The Bower Files. If you have a chance to hear him talk, do it.
Story Fix (by Larry Brooks)
I just picked this one up because I really learned a lot from Story Engineering and Story Physics--which are on my list for further study.
Story Engineering (by Larry Books)
Although I wasn’t an outliner at the time, and still struggle with pre-planning stories, the observations in this book blew me away. I remember watching World War Z afterward and exclaiming “Right there! That’s the First Plot Point! Exactly like in Story Engineering!
Story Physics (by Larry Brooks)
This one goes deeper and expands on the ideas in Story Engineering.
Blueprint Your Bestseller (by Stuart Horwitz)
This book explains, in detail, how to break your book down into scenes and then put it back together in narrative order. The concepts are novel and powerful; it takes work to grasp everything but it is worth it.
Book Architecture (by Stuart Horwitz)
I wrote a blog article on this one here.
Self-editing for Fiction Writers (by Rennie Browne and Dave King)
It has been awhile since I read this one, so I won’t butcher it by attempting a summary here. However, it is a must read. One of the take-aways deals with “small scale telling” and is something I use everyday.
Writing the Blockbuster Novel (by Albert Zuckerman)
Where can you find a step-by-step breakdown of how Ken Follet writes a bestseller? In this book, that’s where.
How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method (by Randy Ingermanson)
This is a step-by-step method that I have tried several times with mixed results. Some of the products of this method are awesome enough to convince me I need another look at it.
There are many other books on my to-read (and to-re-read) list, but this should do for now.
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Three of my favorite books on writing faster are 5000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox,
2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron, and
Writing In Overdrive by Jim Denney. Each has valuable insights of their own, but also share a common theme. Fast writing is not bad writing. We don't have to agonize over each word before moving on.
Some legendary authors do it that way. I read that Kurt Vonnegut perfected each page before moving on. Personally, I tend to start from the beginning when writing organically, which results in the first three chapters being heavily polished. The words come harder after 30k words, because it becomes more and more time consuming to read from the beginning as the novel grows.
It is a good method and I like it. So does the author of Story Trumps Structure, Steven James. Writing organically is sometimes fast and often slow, but there are many real advantages, assuming you don't get stuck. I will talk more about this in a separate article.
This article is not about plotting versus pantsting, but about productivity.
The Number One Reason to Write Fast
The best reason to write quickly is not just to make your word count everyday, but to find continuity. There is a high probability that a rapidly written story (a novel in one month or two weeks or nine days...) will need a lot of revision and editing. Parts may be destined for the circular file.
But you will learn a lot about your characters and their journey. There is also a good chance that the first draft will be better (and more consistent) than you could have hoped for. As a bonus, all those rabbit trails might be the start of other stories with real potential.
So try this to jumpstart your writing:
1) Brainstorm an outline in one day; create a list of scenes and characters.
2) Set that outline aside and refer to it only when necessary if at all.
3) Set a high word count goal for each day am meet it.
4) Do not edit anything.
5) Take a break before revising.
The results may surprise you.
Life is an adventure. I read to expand my horizons and write because I must.
- The Craft of Writing: 7 Magnificent Books
- Use of Force Myths
- A Really Useful Tool
- Project Rotation