‘Yes-binges’ are scary.
For those unacquainted, the concept is exactly what you’d expect: for the duration of the binge, no matter the proposal (provided it doesn’t implode your marriage, involve needless deaths, or punting babies) you say yea. The idea is to open up a bunch of doors you’d normally pass on—deny yourself the luxury of a perpetual state of “nah.” I’ve been on one for the past few months, and if you’re thinking “that sounds insanely bad for your wallet,” you’re totally spot-on.
So when WriteAlongRadio asked me to swing by and do some guest posts, I kinda didn’t have a choice. But I didn’t really need one. Writing about writing is 1) a great way to avoid real writing, and 2) something I really totally love doing. Why break a perfectly good binge? And so you find me here.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can move onto the thing we’re all more interested in, which is why you’re here: Writing. When I first sat down to think of what I could say on the subject of writing, I came upon that lovely cliff of “holy shit what the hell do I have to say?!?!” abandon that we’ve all met before (some of us even set up camp on the precipice). I got scared.
Yes-binges: scary, remember?
So I did what I always do when I run into the wall: I went back to the books on writing that have helped me through before. And then it became clear that I’m going to give you a list of these books, because the first rule of writing is: Read. Like, a lot. Like a lot-a-lot. Like more than humans should.
There are a lot of tomes floating around regarding the craft of scribing. Most of them are boiled turds. It’s like the gym class analogy: those who can’t write, teach; those who can’t teach write how-to books—I mean… Uh… Gym.
But, there are also some pretty gem-like ones. And so, allow me to regale you. A list. Call it scribe-on-scribe. No further ado:
This should actually be titled The Big Fat Duh, because it’s pretty much required reading. Part memoir, part grade-A lecture on the craft. Steve gives a deeply personal account of his career: including egg-farts, drug binges, and some of the greatest bits of how-to you can find in the annals of penmonkey literature. Entertainment Weekly says: “Long live the King,” which totally ruins my pun, so screw them. Read this book. Seriously—how have you not?
I picked this one up on a total whim, and it proved to be worth way more than just its ridiculously cute cover. Yes, readers, one of the few times judging a book by its cover was a totally good call (hey, another blog idea!). Focusing specifically on how to structure a killer opening, Les takes us through dozens of real-world examples (read: books), analyzing how each works, and what to learn from them. Crisp, clean writing. Lots of things worth knowing. It’s a book. Read it.
I’m kind of a structure nut. I like to know how a story works, usually before I even start it. I need to understand what role every piece of the thing serves before I can dive in. It’s a tic. On my never-ending quest to get a better grip on structure, I was pointed to this one by author guy Christopher Moore. It’s kind of a gem. Smart. Funny. Painfully insightful. Gardner walks us through all the facets of a good yarn and explains the parts you need to have, the parts you should have, and the parts you should excise faster than a boil filled with venomous spiders. Harder to find, but definitely worth the wait in shipping—even if you’re not as pedantic about structure as I am. It’s an entire Creative Writing MFA in a book. Minus the ear-gnawingly boring exercises and that guy in third row who smells like he hasn’t showered since Twin Peaks was still airing.
Yeah. I cheated and squeezed two books on the list for the price of one. Larry’s been doing this thing since before I was even a gleam in my father’s eye. His detective books are ubiquitous, many-turned-movie. He’s done everything from smut to flower-child quest/murder mashups. He also wrote for Writer’s Digest, a lot. He’s tackled everything from dealing with creative dry spells to how to self-publish; keeping healthy, how you’ll never read for pleasure again, even some fairly dubious self-help-y stuff to keep your creative confidence pumping… He’s literally done it all. And all his articles have been compiled into this nifty two-volume set. Even if you don’t do fiction, the dude’s just got such a voice. A pleasure to read. Crawling with insight. EW may have stolen my wordplay for Stephen King, but I’m calling full-monopoly on this one: Block rocks.
If you don’t know about Chuck Wendig, you seriously need to fix this part of you. Chuck is a total boss. The book follows a list format, outlining 1001 ways to write, get published, earn your audience… He covers everything. I mean everything. And if thorough isn’t enough for you, I’ll say this: he’s straight-up, change-your-underwear-because-you-peed-yourself hilarious. He’ll spew out an insane non-sequitur example story to back up his advice with an ease that is almost disturbingly good. It’s broken down into all the aspects of writer life, from fundamentals to marketing. It’s a beastly, relentless dynamo of things to know, and no, I did not intend for that to rhyme.
There are many more. Too many, in fact. That’s kind of the problem with “How-To-Write” literature. Most of it will tell you the same thing in a different way, because apparently teachers don’t know much about plagiarism. Either way, this list boils it down to the ones that have stood out for me. May they help you stare into the chasm of “What the shit do I write now?!” with more confidence.
P.S. those sharks at the bottom of the cliff? Totally imaginary. And you thought you couldn’t make stuff up, ya big goof.
Daniel Younger is Amazon’s least-known bestselling author of Delirious. He lives in Canada (Eh?), where he mushes a pack of wild huskies next to a river of maple syrup every morning. He enjoys spicy food, gourmet coffee, beaver-racing, and acid jazz. You can e-mail him at email@example.com, or find him causing a ruckus on Twitter @youngerdaniel.
Catch Daniel’s latest book, Zen and the art of Cannibalism, now for sale on Amazon.