Maybe you just read a book thinking “I could do this better”. Maybe you’ve read thousands of books and have finally decided that the time has come to take a crack at writing one yourself. Maybe you have a story that has been knocking around in your head for a while, wishing someone had written a book about it and finally decide you’ll just have to do it yourself. General consensus on writing seems to be “sit down and write”. This is not something you can get around—books ultimately need to be written by someone. It can be pretty overwhelming if you’re just not sure where to start, and you may find you’ve been staring at the wall for an hour with nothing but a blank page to show for it. Thankfully there are plenty of writing tips and prompts available for free online, and there are a lot of books at the library written by experienced authors on writing as well as publishing.
The main piece of advice novelist and non-fiction writer Anne Lamott offers is something she heard her father say to her brother who had a school assignment about birds due the next day. He’d had three months to write it and he hadn’t started it yet. He was so overwhelmed about how little time he now had that he was unable to start working. Lamott writes that her father “sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'” She has found this advice useful in her writing throughout her life.
If you think about how much you have to do it can paralyze you with fear and you end up getting nothing done. If you narrow your focus to smaller elements it can help make the writing process less arduous. Lamott’s book is broken up into chapters about elements of writing like character, plot, and dialogue. She also talks about her personal struggles as well as struggles with writing and what to do when you feel jealous of other writers’ successes.
The first half of Stephen King’s book on writing is more of a memoir that also includes his writing career. The second half called “Toolbox” goes into the details of the writing process and gives practical advice. I particularly liked how he credited his wife as being a big part of improving his writing, especially regarding the book Carrie—she brought him up to speed on the parts of being a teenage girl which were foreign to him at the time. He also writes about the time he was hit by a van in 1999 and how writing helped lead him back to his life after the accident.
Ally Carter is a YA author of some of my favourite series including the Gallagher Girls and Heist Society. This book is written for young adults but is useful for writers of any age and not just those writing YA novels. Carter wrote the majority of the book, but she also asked many other YA authors such as David Levithan, Julie Murphy, and Zoraida Cordova to answer questions about their own processes. She figured that since authors have many different ways in which they write novels that it would be good to share their knowledge as well as her own.
Some of the writers only write a few drafts whereas others write many more. Some of them have novels with word counts numbering in the hundreds of thousands whereas some authors’ longest books are 50,000 words. A lot of writing advice is perpetually useful but since this book is a lot newer than King’s or Lamott’s books there more current information on the aspects of the publishing industry that have changed, such as ebooks (which did not exist when “On Writing” and “Bird by Bird” were written).
There are many other books on writing available through the library, including those on how to write and publish in specific genres such as romance and mystery.