I’ve been writing for a long freaking time. It started with a kid’s story in the back of a grade school notebook and evolved into more vignettes (plot-less scenes) as I turned into a teen. There wasn’t a lot of room for creative writing classes in my high school and when I went to college, I couldn’t decide on a major until my fourth year of classes (before dropping out altogether to get married and move across the country because we could see where my priorities were).
What I did to build my skills as a writer was start in the bookstore. Not only did I read prolifically, through whatever I could get my hands on, I cleaned out the writing reference section of my bookstore (back when Borders was still a thing). It helped me avoid thousands of dollars in debt that would have eaten any advances I earned on books and forced me to learn by doing.
Now, I work as a full time ghostwriter, coach, plot doctor, and am working on querying for the first time.
Here is a short list of the books and podcasts that helped me become the writer I am today.
by Brian Kiteley
This is THE book that helped me become the writer I am today. Kiteley takes the techniques of writing prose, from forming settings to crafting pacing, and explains them through cleverly deconstructed examples. Not only that, Kiteley offers exercises after each section that you can use to figure out the technique on your own.
I don’t know about you, but I’m very much a hands-on kind of learner. The way these exercises were explained and set up helped me walk the path towards understanding on my own. Once I was able to incorporate these lessons into my work, they started to become second nature. Techniques such as imagery, dialogue, and the manipulation of time are addressed in this book through exercises.
While I have not grabbed the second book, The Four AM Breakthrough, I believe it could also be an invaluable resource for someone learning to understand the mechanics of storytelling.
While I can’t commend his take on writing the opposite sexes, I can offer better resources as far as that is concerned, such as Creating Characters of the opposite Sex by Kristin Choruby.
By Larry Brooks
So, I’ll be the first to confess that I only recently purchased this book, but once I cracked it open I found it speaking to all the things I understood about storytelling (yet couldn’t remember where I’d learned them). Story Physics by Larry Brooks helps the writer understand the forces that keep a story in motion. He takes the idea and helps you figure out how to mold it into a concept, like the fuel for a good machine. Brooks also helps you identify subtext, understand the principles of the craft (and how to break them), and dissects popular books like The Hunger Game and The Help.
I’ve watched a number of author interviews and, when asked which book helped them learn the craft of writing, Larry Brooks was mentioned more often than not. He is also the author of Story Engineering, if you want to check that out, too. His writing can be a bit dry and over worked at times, but the message is there if you have the patience and dedication to read.
If you aren’t easily offended by curse words and like a really good, belly aching laugh at the world around you and possibly yourself, check out any and all writing references by Chuck Wendig. He is absolutely hilarious in his delivery of solid writing advice.
I own The Kick-Ass Writer, which is kind of a book of lists on being a writer, and it is one of my favorite reading materials for when I need to brush-up on a technique or idea.
I will always, always, always recommend Hannah Bauman (of BTLEditorial.com) as an editor. You can roll your eyes and say that’s because she’s my friend, but that’s actually how we met. Hannah is so personable, knowledgeable in the memes, and damn good at what she does.
Recently, Hannah released a book on self-editing. While this doesn’t replace the need for a contract with an editor, knowing the rules of wordsmithing will help you to create a neater draft. Hannah helps break down how to use commas, format dialogue, and cut back on passive voice. Every now and then she even drops a trick of the trade that she’s picked up on her own.
You can always check her out on her website, where she offers advice and deals on her editorial services.
Reading can drain the mind and hurt the eyes. Every now and then, we want an experience that feels almost interactive. This is where we can apply the use of podcasts. These audio episodes, some about the craft of writing and others showcasing interviews with excellent authors, can bring you from your bedroom to the classroom.
This is hands down one of my favorite podcasts. Yin Chang is an actress and podcast interviewer who brings joy and insight to her interviews with bestselling authors, from Holly Black to Tomi Adeyemi, agents, and publishers. (My favorite episodes are Rachel Caine and Nnedi Okorafor.)
Change connects with the authors she interviews, approaching questions not only about how the author began writing or how they write, but asks questions about their lives and what brought them to writing. The stories they share can be soul shaking or downright hilarious, but they’re always completely honest.
Add 88 Cups of Tea to your podcast list and listen while you take that self-care bubble bath or workout at the gym (that’s what I do). You can stand to learn a lot from the people who have walked the steps you hope to follow in.
If you’ve ever craved a snarky and witty take on the life of a literary agent. Bridget Smith (Dunham Literary Inc.) and Jennifer Udden (Barry Goldblatt Literary) crack open a bottle of wine and dish about their listener’s questions. Recently, they tackled the day in the life of a literary agent, the dos and don’ts of description, and revisions.
Everything they say comes from the view of a literary agent, the person who helps authors score amazing traditional contracts in publishing. They go over what agents want from their authors and how that can change from person to person. The motto is always: IT DEPENDS.
While they might offer little in the way of advice in terms of starting and finishing your novel, their insight into the industry is absolutely invaluable. To understand the whims of the publishing industry is to save yourself a lot of hurt down the line. What your writing right now might not be right for the market when you’re finished, but that isn’t the end of the world.
Bridget and Jen have your back with this industry podcast.
I’ll be honest, I adore Sarah! Her advice is down to earth and almost always completely on point. Sarah if a work-for-hire writer, author, and audio-drama podcaster. Her advice on writing comes from the heart, often after facing breakdowns and sudden epiphanies about her own life.
She offers advice on silencing the inner critic, surviving your day job, and finding your muse. Between advice episodes she interviews a myriad of publishing professionals, from all over the industry. On top of all that, her voice is absolutely soothing.
Also, if you’re interested in sci-fi audio-dramas, Girl in Space is honestly amazing. It’s 100% in space, features a take charge female lead, and one very snarky robotic friend.
You Aren’t an Aspiring Writer. You ARE a Writer.
Spending tons of money on a Creative Writing degree isn’t necessary with so many great resources out there. If it’s truly what you want to do and you think you can pull it off financially, go for it! But, for those who fear huge student loans and can’t access schools with programs, know there’s a million great options available to you.
Podcasts are free, available on any device through free apps (if you’re willing to brave ads). If you love what they have to say, many have Patreon or Ko-fi pages where you can support them based on what you can afford.
For books, there’s a number of great options. If you don’t need to keep a text then request it at your local library. Sometimes, libraries are a part of a network and can pull a book from another location just for you. Also, libraries have e-books that can be borrowed online with a library card.
If you want something to keep, you can purchase second hand or wait for authors to announce deals on their books. Many authors follow their books on platforms like Amazon or B&N and will announce when the retailers put their books on sale.
Other Thoughts and Advice
- Read with a discerning eye. Watch the flow of words in a sentence, in a paragraph. Often, styling sentences can be as much an art as the story itself. Also, watch for the twists and turns. Try to backtrack through the story and see where and how the author set it up.
- Get your hands on all sorts of knowledge. Knowing something is half the battle, the other half is writing it. If you can learn as much as possible, about anything, you can apply it to your writing. This can be anything from metaphors about science and the emotion of a scene to the proper inner workings of a gun when writing action.
- Listen to people talk. I know it sounds invasive, but listening to the way people express themselves and suppress things unsaid will help you to write scenes that are less on the nose and more intriguing.
- Writing exercises are the best way to really work out those writing muscles. Bustle lists 12 accounts on Twitter that post writing prompts. Use them to create small exercises for yourself and really discover your style, methods, and try new things.