How Many Writing Books Does It Take? Part Three


Getting Published Books

For the third category of books—those I don’t need to own—I use the library. The massive marketplace tomes and this year’s (which is really already out-of-date) directory of agents and publishers I’m happy for the library to purchase. I’ve already been through buying – name the year – only to find that agent X was now working for agency Y, or that the publisher was acquired. These books are invaluable (as helpful as some excellent agent/publisher websites), but not necessary to possess. The world of publishing opportunities, including this one, is changing by the nanosecond and a few thoughtful books from the library is sufficient.

forest for the trees bookTwo books that I do own and have obliterated the margins with notes are: The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner and Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Being Rejected by Jessica Page Morrell.

Can you tell I’ve had a heart break or two? Can you show me a writer who hasn’t? Their titles say exactly what the books are about and I would find it too depressing to have too many of this ilk staring at my back (going Pixar again) while I’m trying to encourage the cat to move off my notes, stop checking email, and get down to business.

I keep these two books and a raft of articles clipped from Poets & Writers, Writers Digest and whatever else I find in the mail out of sight and read them when my manuscript is cooling off.

Confession Number Five

When I’m ready to look for an agent or publisher; when my novel has been read by beta-readers and their bare-knuckle comments processed; another revision completed; a final edit by a Sisyphus imageprofessional; and possibly a trip to an exorcist, I’ll get these two books out, and begin the Sisyphus-like process of the all-important, tightrope walking, writing of the query letter and synopsis.

Best Friend Books

I have two books that are so marked up, heavily tabbed, and beloved I might choose them over old photos in a fire.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott has become something of a ritual for me. Each time I start a long project – fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter – out comes Bird. I turn immediately to page 21, read “Shitty First Drafts,” and then speed read through the rest. I can read it at night when I’m too tired to write since it’s very like “Rocky Horror Picture” show after all these years. You name the chapter and I can recite a few nuggets.

Like many of my colleagues, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and several of her later books provided me with the writing juice I needed to get started and more important, to take myself seriously as a writer. That’s really another and important reason why we spend our hard-earned money on books. On days when the laundry seems sooo important, when I would do almost anything to put off sitting down to write, these books declare You are a Writer and so get to it.

Carolyn See probably doesn’t remember me even though we corresponded briefly in the past. Her book, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers has become my best friend and Carolyn by extension. I love her books and gave The Handyman as Christmas presents to several friends one year. In Making a Literary Life – a mere 258 pages – See delivers the goods in a way that worked better for me than any other book in my collection. Like Lamott, she advocates for me as a writer and reminds me that being a writer is the best profession ever (and I’ve had several) and I’m lucky to be in it. She understands how lonely, boring, scary, and exciting it is to be such a person. Her chapters Pretend to Be a Writer and Charming Notes are laugh out loud and insightful. When’s the last time you had a belly laugh reading a how-to book?

To be honest, given that Oprah’s book club is passé now, dreaming abhors a vacuum, and old imaginings are replaced with new ones. This is another endearing quality of writers—we are by nature dreamers or how could we keep doing this? My new dream is to have my book reviewed by See. I learned so much about craft by reading her book reviews in The Washington Post. Of course, I want her to love it and voila (there’s the dreaming again) I’m on the best seller list with my breakout novel busy with my agent negotiating the movie rights. Sound familiar?

Part Four – coming right up!

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