by Jamie Freveletti
I’m preparing a presentation to a group of new writers and writing a list of “How to” books for them.
Like most debut authors, I spent a few years writing, rewriting and reading about how to write. I’d get stuck in the process and race to the Harold Washington library here in Chicago to a group of shelves that held books written by writers on writing. I’d yank one out, read it on the subway ride home, and plunge back into the novel. Some were quite helpful, some not so.
There are a few “standbys” that we all know, Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird,” and Elmore Leonard’s wonderful, fun read: “10 Rules of Writing” (Rule #3: Avoid Prologues).
I’d add the following:
1. The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and how to avoid them), by Jack Bickham.
Bickham’s short, numbered mistake list, with a bit of explanation for each, is bound to hit on one that every writer will recognize as one they have made or are still making. At the time I grabbed this book I was deep into the first manuscript and nothing was going well. Mr. Bickham clued me in: I was protecting my protagonist and having a sidekick interact with the main second character. Why? My protagonist was married, and unless she was going to have an affair, there was no way she could run around with the male character in the story. I rewrote her as single, lost the sidekick, and continued forward.
2. Give ‘Em What They Want: the right way to pitch your novel to editors and agents by Blythe Camenson.
This is a must read for any author in the query stages of writing. I used this book religiously when creating my query (along with the advice of a good friend) and it really helped me see what agents needed in order to evaluate the novel. What’s great about this book is that many of the agents interviewed are still in the game and they are generous with advice about what they want to see in the queries they receive.
3. Making a Literary Life: advice for writers and other dreamers, by Carolyn See.
See’s book is one of the few that really helps published authors as well as the unpublished. Her “So what?” approach to reviews and her advice to use a form of “literary aikido” to take a negative event and spin it positively is a quite helpful (and as a black belt in aikido, I loved the analogy). See addresses whether to have launch parties in New York (better to wait and be sure you’ve got enough friends to back you) and gives a lighthearted account of her attempts to get an editor to accept some of her freelance work (pictures of goats were involved).
These are my current favorites, but if any of you have a book to recommend do tell!