The champagne has been popped, the streamers thrown, the hangover gone, and now the rubber hits the road for 2020. As a writer, it’s likely there is a planner on your desk, all crisp and new and untarnished by the wrong type of pen (No? Just me? Cool, cool.) Inside it, or on a digital device if you love the paper-free life, are likely goals for the coming twelve months. And if you are a writer, somewhere beneath getting that first draft written, or publishing that fiftieth book, or promising yourself that this is the year you are going to get on top of social media posting, is the one goal that makes all of it possible. Honing your craft.
Learning never exhausts the mind.
Allegedly Leonardo Da Vinci said this. Leonardo obviously never sat through my Year 8 Geography class with Mr. Jones, but I digress. Developing writing skills (which include the skills of actually sitting down to write in a productive manner, and then writing content that is of value) is perhaps the greatest gift any writer can give themselves this year. To help you get started, we thought we’d share some of our favorite resources:
Masterclass is one of our favorites. Each masterclass is taught by an expert and is broken down into approximately twenty 10~15 minute videos. Want to learn about film directing? Ron Howard can help you with that. Want to kick butt on your next tennis outing? Serena has your back. (I debated writing her last name but surely she is worth single-name status by now, right?) But most importantly, there are a dozen of the greatest authors ready to teach writing. James Patterson. Joyce Carol Oates. Even Judy Blume. Our personal favorites? The decisive winner was Malcolm Gladwell. His engaging style, concise delivery, and clear lesson structure was the most helpful. But Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman ran a very close second. Bonus points to Margaret for the clever use of scarves to delineate episodes!
2. Deep Work, Cal Newport
One of the biggest struggles as a writer, whether writing full-time or trying to squeeze in an hour at 5am, is the simple act of getting your butt into the chair and getting straight to the place of writing (as opposed to checking social media, reading the news, responding to emails etc.). Distractions are the enemy of the writer, and Newport deconstructs the reasons why we get distracted and how people who have achieved levels of focus, or as he calls it, Deep Work, managed to achieve that state. So, if your mind is all over the place and you can’t focus on getting the words down on the page, this book is well worth a read. Multitaskers like me might fight themselves a little while reading it… clinging to old patterns is hard, yo! But the benefits are most definitely worth it.
Buy Now: https://amzn.to/2MrBapd
3. Atomic Habits by James Clear
If Deep Work helps you understand what you need to do to work in a focused way, then Atomic Habits will help you figure out how to break old habits and how to make new habits stick. The framework is clear, with lots of examples. For those worried about biting off more than they can shew, Clear is, well, clear, that you can start small. Doing two push-ups is the start of building a healthy lifestyle, waking up five minutes earlier can reframe an entire day. Attaching a new habit to an old habit so they become a pattern, an activity he calls ‘habit-stacking’, helps keep you on track. His four steps are simple. To make a new habit, you need to make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. To break an old one, you need to do the opposite. To get a taste of Clear’s philosophy, you can watch his Talk here: https://youtu.be/U_nzqnXWvSo
4. Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
The book provides an insightful framework to write a strong story within, going beyond the basic three-act story (beginning, middle, end). Brooks describes something that looks akin to a circus tent. He focuses on what he describes as six core competencies of writing: concept, character, theme, story structure, scene construction, and writing voice. Any card-carrying member of the plotter’s club should have this book in their reference library. Brooks, ever the diplomat, discusses why pantsers* should read it too. There is a lot more to this book than plotting, which is why it’s on this list.
* For those new to the terms, a plotter is someone who writes a somewhat-to-very detailed outline of the story before a word of the story is written. Pantsers are those who turn on the laptop, type ‘Chapter One’ and then start writing.
Buy Now: https://amzn.to/2Iwsn30
5. The Positive Trait Thesaurus & The Negative Trait Thesaurus, Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman
Ever read a book only to find the characters have fallen flat? Or watched a movie where you just haven’t been able to root for the hero even though you know you should? Well, these two books will prevent it happening to you. Puglisi and Ackerman will help you figure out who your characters are. Throughout its pages are tips on how to build characters with flaws that stop them progressing, and positive attributes that propel them forward and keep them out of trouble. It forces you to think about how you will convey those traits, showing not telling, scene-by-scene, to make characters leap off the page fully formed.
6. Save The Cat by Blake Snyder
Don’t let the tagline, ‘The Last Book On Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need’ put you off. This book is just as valuable to the book writer. I’d argue more so if your longer-term goal is to have your book turned into a movie. From killer titles to not including lots of pipe (back story and extraneous matter before you get to the meat of the plot), Snyder takes us step by step through what it takes to construct a successful story. There are exercises at the end of each chapter which are well worth taking the time to do. I know, I know, it’s so easy to blow past them with a wavering intention to come back and do them ‘later’… but trust me, make the investment in yourself and do them. Using plots from famous and commonly known movies to illustrate his examples, it makes for an entertaining read.
Buy Now: https://amzn.to/2NeK0cM
7. Telling True Stories, Neiman Foundation at Harvard University
For those writing non-fiction, be it articles, short stories, or novels, this book contains powerful essay contributions from over fifty well-known authors, and dozens of Pulitzer prize winners. The contributions are distilled from presentations and speeches made at the Nieman Conference of Narrative Journalism. The essays are broken down into categories. Need help on the ethics of writing, or how to build a career, or write narrative in a news organization? There are over one hundred essays to choose from. While the book is focused on non-fiction, there is a cross over to fiction. How to research and interview are relevant skills for both genres. It’s an easy read as the essays are short and concise. Perfect reading for that commute.
Buy Now: https://amzn.to/2QKX4sw
8. Into The Woods by John Yorke
There isn’t a page in this book that isn’t valuable. Plus, it’s written by John Yorke, the creator of the BBC Writers’ Academy, who carries with him a quintessentially English way of writing the blunt truth. Using examples from both British and American TV drama, he attempts to explain how stories work and why we, as humans, are compelled to tell them. With deep dives on structure, inciting incidents, showing versus telling, characterization, and series structure, you will learn something new no matter where you are on your learning journey.
Buy Now: https://amzn.to/2tLmVYD
9. On Writing by Stephen King
I’m not sure this one needs spelling out. Described as ‘part memoir, part masterclass’, the book is highly engaging and an easy read. The lessons and wisdom King imparts are intertwined with memories and experiences from King’s life, which makes it all the more grounded. It’s a very direct approach, great for those starting out. If you are a more experienced writer, this may challenge you to reevaluate you the way you go about your craft. Plus, what harm can come from taking advice of arguably one of the most successful storytellers there is?
Buy Now: https://amzn.to/38049LV
10. Rainer Maria Rilke: Letters to a Young Poet introduced by Lewis Hyde
This is a wild card on this how to hone your craft list of resources. And is comes by way of Dax Shepherd’s podcast. This book is the reason it’s worth listening to your spouse waffle on about the latest podcast he listened to me. Call me skeptical, but I bought it immediately after my partner told me about it then it sat collecting dust on my bedside table for an age before I finally caved and read it. I say read it… I inhaled it. It is balm for the creative soul. It’s a soulful exchange of letters between a young poet seeking critical feedback, and Rilke, the prolific older poet who responds, telling him that “There is nothing less apt to touch a work of art than critical words.” Instead, over the course of ten letters, Rilke shares with the young poet how to embrace the depths of his creativity, to create from the soul, to live in the question until he has the answers. The book will be balm for your creative soul and will quite probably help you be a better writer than any of the above.
Buy Now: https://amzn.to/2sj0oC0
P.S. Wondering where you’re going to get all the time? Allow Authicist to track your book rankings for you to give you time to sit and enjoy honing your craft!
Let us know in the comments what you think of the list of resources provided, and if there are others you would recommend. This is our first Authicist blog post, so please let us know if there are topics you like us to cover, and if you have a couple of extra moments give it a like or share – we’d really appreciate your support.
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