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Writing Instruction and Inspiration
Books for writers reviewed with a discerning eye.
Lawrence Block, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit
There are two books on writing that I always keep on hand: Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury and Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block. I can always depend on them to inspire me to write more when my momentum has flagged for whatever reason, usually insecurity.
I really like Block's conversational style. I know this is cliche, but I often feel as if he could be speaking directly to me and addressing my own problems. I find this, among other things, to be very comforting, thus allowing me to let go and just write.
He presents simple solutions to common problems, also inspiring me to go try them out, having never approached the problem in that way before.
I find this book to be very useful in my quest to be a writer, as he seems to have had the same problems I do. This sends the positive message that these problems are universal, and all you have to do is work your way through them, because ALL writers have the same issues to deal with. Also very comforting.
I would recommend Telling Lies for Fun and Profit to anyone struggling with the need to write but not finding the nerve to just settle down and do it; and also for anyone else just needing a little boost.
Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
There are two books on writing that truly inspire me: Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block and Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. I keep them both at hand, and when my passion flags, I pick one of them up and read it, and they refuel my flame.
This is really a collection of essays, mostly from introductions to other books. However, don't let that detract from their message. To write you must, simply, write. Write until it hurts, and don't stop just because you feel insecure.
Bradbury's style won't work for everyone. He uses free-association to begin his stories. He simply types a word and goes from there. Not all of us can do that, but his passion and love for his work comes through the pages. He also encourages writers to find their own voice through practice, and to write until grammar and story structure become unconscious.
This is a relatively quick read and one that will remain with you long after you finish it.
"Now, go, and do likewise."
Karen Elizabeth Gordon, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire
In an essay from her collection Mama Makes Up Her Mind, Bailey White describes how she learned to get children to read. Teach them that they can find out really nasty, tragic things from books. Because despite what adults would like to believe, kids love that stuff. How else to explain the publishing phenomena of Goosebumps and Lemony Snicket?
Karen Gordon seems to be using a similar tactic on the teaching of sentence structure with her book, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed. (Now, that's a title.)
In her introduction, Gordon states that she knows what "a dangerous game I'm playing" by illustrating the rules of grammar via "a menage of revolving lunatics kidnapped into this book." However, she persuades that by following their stories, we will "be beguiled into compliance with the rules, however confounding those rules may appear to be." She's right. This is absolutely the most fun I've had reading a grammar primer. The rules are written simply enough; this book's charm lies in its illustrative sentences--wonderful, gothic examples of subject and predicate, adjective and adverb, dependent and independent clauses. Sentences giving examples of a subject include: (her italics)
The persona non grata was rebuked.She goes on to give examples of nouns: Person (eavesdropper, ruffian, Peter Lorre), Place (Aix-en-Provence, Omsk, Mars), and Thing (marzipan, scum, haunch); as well participles and gerunds. This is a thorough look at all the rules necessary for proper communication. The examples make for curious reading, and when the sentences are captioning the numerous classical paintings and woodcuts scattered throughout, often provoke a laugh.
Such as the simple picture of a lady's hand, with the legend "The hand that is languishing on the windowsill once was mine" (restrictive adjective clause); or the painting of the nude which illustrates the separation of independent clauses with a semi-colon and reads, "She wrapped herself up in an enigma; there was no other way to keep warm."
We need to know how to use this language we have, and use it well. And while we're relearning the proper usages, why not have fun doing it? Karen Gordon thinks we should. As the final sentence in the book states: "You must beckon the transitive vampire to your bedside and submit to his kisses thirstily."
Now that's a well-constructed sentence.
Karen Elizabeth Gordon has also written a punctuation handbook (The New Well-Tempered Sentence), a dictionary (The Disheveled Dictionary), a writers' style manual (Torn Wings and Faux Pas), and a writers' instruction manual (Sin and Syntax); and is the author of the fanciful Parisian travel guide Paris Out of Hand: A Wayward Guide.
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
The first writing instruction book from the bestselling author, Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is divided into three parts. The first part is the memoir, interlaced with bits about King's early publishing history. The second is the writing instruction (in which he advises you to read -- a lot!). And the third section regards his recent accident and recovery--his climb back to writing and how writing helped him recover.
One thing that surprised me was how funny On Writing is. I knew that he wrote this during his recovery, so I expected that the prose would be dry, and perhaps a bit jaded. But King's signature sense of humor shines throughout.
I can't say I was inspired to do more writing by On Writing, but I flew through it in two days (a feat for me) and enjoyed every page as if it had been a novel. I'm sure that's one of the reasons why King sells so well: you can't put his book down even when he's just talking about himself. However, he gives a lot of credit for this to his wife Tabitha, who -- when he has written a particularly descriptive piece that stopped the flow of the work -- admonishes him "do you have to bore me?"
Any fan of King's should pick up On Writing for an education into the mind of the man, and any writer should read it because you can enjoy yourself and still tell yourself you're honing your craft.