How Many Writing Books Does It Take? Part Two


Confession Number Two

I have never made it all the way through The Artist’s Way and rarely completed any book with helpful exercises at the end of each chapter. Have I stopped buying these books? No, of course not. My recent purchase of Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston is a case in point. A great instructor, who has more books than a bookmobile, recommended it. Since there’s always a chance I could undergo a profound transformation, I keep these excellent books because . . . I just do.

The second and largest category is comprised of well-used books about craft, specific to whatever project or genre I might be working on. Currently active craft-helpers cover point of view, subtext, and revision. They are: The Power of Point of View: Make Your Story Come to Life by Alicia Rasley I purchased after a class; The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter, spotted in a writers’ store window and deliciously short and to the point.

Currently it’s Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon. I’m about to finish the umpteenth draft of my novel and the Lyon book is getting a workout. Fortunately for us exercise-completion challenged, she provides helpful checklists in the back of each chapter as a quick review. I’ve already underlined in the book so much it will be mine forever unless I loan it to a friend.

Here’s another reason why our shelves get full—marketing! If I were in a bookstore and saw subtitles like those of authors Rasley and Lyon, only if I were completely broke or waiting for the paramedics to come for me could I not succumb to a purchase. The same goes for words like “best seller,” “breakout,” and any number of how-to books – I’m putty in their titles!

We all have our favorites, the books that we found so helpful. My memoir, Getting to Home: Sojourn in a Perfect House owes much of its strength to several books. Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. Both took up residency on my desk during the revision process.

As soon as whatever I’m working on gets some heft, e.g., an outline, a chapter, or notes, one or more of my writing tools comes off the shelf.

Confession Number Three

I rarely loan books and if I do, and here my German grandfather is smiling down at me, I write down who has what book, warn them in advance I’m like a dog with a bone when it comes to borrowing, and make sure I get it back.

Confession Number Four

I have also sold books for store credit, later thought I still owned them, and had to buy them again. Now grandpa is not smiling!

The “I’ll never read this again” demon just bit me on the backside last week. I’m mentoring (see forthcoming blog) two young women in high school. To my surprise when I mentioned Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces I drew a blank look. G- is writing a fabulous book, making up new people, and trying not to co-opt Native American culture as she creates her characters. “I have it at home and would be happy to lend it to you.” So—back to the used bookstore I go hoping to find another copy to replace the one I sold.

Stay tuned for Part Three and More Confessions!

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