Tag Archives: books on writing

Bird by Bird Reading Group

Bird by Bird

I recently posted on Facebook that I felt like doing a re-read of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

One thing lead to another, and I ended up forming a reading group. We’re still in the beginning stages, getting the word out to anyone who might be interested.

If you’re interested in joining a group of writers and readers who will be reading Bird by Bird together, with (hopefully!) lots of fun and inspiring discussions, please come by and  join our group here: Bird by Bird reading group.

The group is hosted at Facebook, but all that’s required is that you have a Facebook account. I’ve made the group closed, so that we will have privacy once our group discussions start: with a closed group, only members can see posts and discussions.

If you’ve never read Bird by Bird, I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a writer or interested in writing.

It’s a very inspirational and motivating book, and reading it in a group should generate some equally inspiring and motivating discussions. Whether you’d like to read the book for the very first time, or have been thinking about doing a reread, please come by and join us!

And I’ve never run a reading group before, so for those of you with reading group experience, I’d love to hear your suggestions and tips!

Review: Write Away, by Elizabeth George

Write AwayIn Write Away, mystery novelist Elizabeth George writes about her “approach to fiction and the writing life”. I am always on the lookout for books about writing written by authors I know and love, and this is one of my favorites.

I am a big fan of George’s Inspector Lynley novels; I’ve read all of them with the exception of one (I couldn’t bear to read What Came Before He Shot Her because I’m still in grief over With No One As Witness, although I was able to jump right back in with Careless in Red), so it was also a lovely treat to read about how George came to write A Great Deliverance, her first book and the first in the Inspector Lynley series.

For those interested in the writing of the type of mystery/suspense novels that George writes, Write Away distills the author’s entire process. If you’ve read her works, you’ll not be surprised to learn that she is very disciplined with her writing; what I’ve taken away most from her process, though, are the ways she consciously makes the effort to tap into her right-brained self:

“I am strongly left-brained, as you can probably tell from my having such an intricate process in the first place, and I must do whatever I can to get the right side of my brain up and operational. Present-tense stream of consciousness does this for me. Writing in this fashion, I’m not worried about typographical errors, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, figurative language or anything else that might make me stop, consider, and thus get derailed. I just start firing away at the computer keys, writing down what I see happening in each scene on my step outline.”

Because I don’t work from an outline, I haven’t applied her stream-of-consciousness approach to what she calls a step outline. I have, however, used it to create character analyses, something I’d never done before reading this book, and I’ve been amazed at the amount of detail that flows onto the page about my characters – things that I would never have thought of, but which feel so right once I’ve set them down on paper. George has this to say about her character analyses:

“This may come as something of a surprise, especially if you tend to think of crime novels – or any novels, for that matter – as all about plot. I don’t see novels in that manner, however, and for that reason when I’m writing one, I hammer down the idea and the expanded idea and turn at once to character in order to learn more about my story.”

There are detailed examples throughout the book, both from George’s own writing (including her character analysis of Eve Bowen from Missing Joseph, warts and all, so to speak, which clearly illustrates how the stream of consciousness process works), as well as from the works of other authors. She also writes about outlines, structuring scenes, dialogue, voice and the importance of setting.

Just as valuable are her sections on persistence. I am in awe that she wrote the first rough draft of A Great Deliverance over three and a half weeks one summer, and had the finished draft completed not too long after:

“A Great Deliverance more than any of my novels serves as a shining example of what high-quality bum glue can do for a writer. When I began it upon returning from a trip to Yorkshire, England, I had only forty-two days before I had to go back to El Toro High School and teach English for another year. I wanted to get the novel done in that time, so I wrote from eight to sixteen hours a day in order to accomplish it.”

I first came across Write Away a year ago; it made an incredible impression on me the first time I read it, and I continue to take it off my shelf to dip into when I’m finding myself in need of motivation. It’s a book that talks about one writer’s approach to her craft, and whether you’re looking for an entire process to guide you step-by-step, or bits and pieces to fill in gaps in your own process, or simply motivation and inspiration, I highly recommend it.

Where to buy Write Away:

U.S. (Amazon.com) or IndieBound

Canada (Chapters)

UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by HarperCollins, 2004, Hardcover, 257 pages

Why I Like On Writing

On WritingI’m sitting here re-reading my copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. You could say I’m procrastinating, as I’m doing this instead of working on one of several editorial deadlines that are coming due next week and the week after, not to mention the condition of my TBR pile, each book of which I plan on reviewing here at Ms. Bookish.

But I love On Writing; for me, one of the pleasures of life is re-reading it every now and then. That got me wondering: what is it about this book that appeals to me so much?

And then I realized, it’s because of this:

But Amy [Tan] was right: nobody ever asks about the language. They ask the DeLillos and the Updikes and the Styrons, but they don’t ask popular novelists. Yet many of us proles also care about the language, in our humble way, and care passionately about the art and craft of telling stories on paper. What follows is an attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it’s done. It’s about the day job; it’s about the language.

If you’ve read this blog for the short while it’s been around, you’ve probably noticed, I enjoy popular fiction very much, whether it’s for adults, teens or children. Yes, I do read “literary” fiction, although if given the choice, I’d prefer re-reading certain classics (Pride and Prejudice and A Good Soldier come to mind), and I have a special fondness for plays and screenplays (especially Beckett and Bergman).

But ask me to make a Deserted Island list, and it would be filled with popular fiction (right below Getting Off Deserted Islands for Dummies, complete with a compact inflatable raft as an insert, that is).

For me, the well-written popular novel is exactly that – it’s well-written. It combines a serious commitment to the craft of language with the excitement of plot and the charm of well-developed characters. I admit, too, that I don’t need both exquisite characterization and intricate plot together, either. The presence of one or the other can hook me just fine. But the language? It’s got to be there, or I can’t find my way through the work.