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Writing Is Hard, Books Help

January 17, 2017

Spelling and grammar have always come easy to me. That's good news, seeing as I'm a writer and English is my second language, after French. Growing up, I was often tasked with editing my father's construction bids. I'd wield my red pen to correct grammar and spelling mistakes. Sometimes, he'd have me rewrite the entire thing. My father was a bright man, but he didn't learn English until he immigrated to the United States from Canada as an adult. Also, his education stopped at eighth grade. The school expelled him for giving his teacher a fat lip.

 

As the story goes, my father witnessed his teacher abuse a student with cognitive delays. He came to the boy's defense, shoving the teacher and telling him he had no right to treat him that way. The teacher said something to the effect of, "Yeah? You a tough guy? A hero? Let's see how tough you are."

 

A brawl ensued with students gathering round, each clamoring for a view of the skinny thirteen-year-old taking on their bully-teacher. Though smaller, my father's rage was fueled by honor and virtue. Righteous anger is often underestimated and in the end, he gave as good as he got. The principal broke up the fight and sent my dad home. He never went back, choosing instead to work at his parents' farm. With their blessing, he left home at fifteen to find work beyond his small town. He traveled from province to province, taking jobs where he could find them. Eventually, he discovered his penchant for construction and set out for the United States.

 

By the time I came along, my dad had written plenty of proposals (and won many of those jobs), but I like to think my edits helped. It certainly boosted my confidence to have my successful father seek out my advice! I'm sure that was in large part why he asked me. It was fun sitting at his desk with him, working together.

 

The writing I do now is different from those construction proposals, but the same grammar and spelling rules apply. Yet, the more I write, the more I realize how much I have to learn. (Tweet that.)

 

First of all, writing isn't "easy." I'm wary of anyone who says it is. Regardless of the genre, you have to capture your audience's attention while heeding the mechanics like sentence structure, passive voice and a host of other grammar rules. Thankfully there's a book for that. Or hundreds.

 

Ask a dozen writers what books they recommend and you'll get twelve different answers. I'm keeping my list short because the truth is, there are too many to list. My advice is to browse your local library and study up as much as you can. Each writer has areas he or she needs to focus on more than others. For instance, two of my areas that need work are deep POV (point of view) and the overuse of commas. What can I say? I like commas and have a fear of leaving one out.

 

 

Without further ado, my top 5 books on writing:

 

The Elements of Style     William Strunk, Jr and E.B. White

This classic covers it all, clearly and succinctly. I've yet to find a book that tops this one on how to write English. Period.

 

Take Off Your Pants!     Libbie Hawker

I wrote my first novel, Grasping Hope, without notes or an outline. I wrote during every spare moment and finished it in three months. Mind you, I had that story brewing in my head for at least a year and by the time I decided to write it I knew my characters intimately and had sketched out scenes and dialogue for days. When I started my second book, I quickly realized having some sort of outline would help me write a tighter book in less time. However, I had no desire to do a detailed outline. I read about this book on Seekerville and bought it immediately. I love it because it uses character arc to plot. 

 

Understanding Show, Don't Tell: And Really Getting It     Janice Hardy

Not long after I started writing Grasping Hope, I learned about contests and how they benefited young writers. So, I entered a few, was a finalist in two and won first place in one, thus far. The positive feedback was validating and gratifying. The negative feedback made me a better writer almost immediately. You need both. Across the board the feedback went like this "Your dialogue is excellent. You need to work on showing. You tell too much." I googled show vs. tell since all of these writer terms were new to me. On the advice of my mentor, I downloaded Hardy's book and read it through to the end. She was right, I now understand it and really get it. 

 

On Writing     Stephen King

Part memoir, part instruction manual, King is entertaining and enlightening. Whether or not you're a fan of his books, you'll come away with knowledge and insight into one of the greatest authors of our time. 

 

Self-Editing For Fiction Writers     Renni Browne and Dave King

I'm only a little ways into this book but I find it clear, concise and expository. The checklists and exercises at the end of each chapter are helpful. 

 

Now it's your turn! I'd love to know what books you've found helpful to your writing. Please leave a comment below!

 

 

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