The Craft Of Writing

Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston
Work your way through all these exercises and there’s no question that you’ll be a different writer from the one you were before you did. Write about firsts and things that make the heart beat faster. Make lists—of characters’ props and beliefs. Write a sex scene that incorporates a unique, unexpected gesture. Write in great detail about the destruction of a place you love. Write about lovers parting in public and all the things happening around them that they’re unaware of. The exercises, for fiction and nonfiction writers alike, come courtesy of authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Robbins and Nick Arvin, and they’re all about stocking your tool box. When you’re done, good luck lifting it.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
“Think you’ve got a book inside of you? Anne Lamott isn’t afraid to help you let it out. She’ll help you find your passion and your voice, beginning from the first really crummy draft to the peculiar letdown of publication. Readers will be reminded of the energizing books of writer Natalie Goldberg and will be seduced by Lamott’s witty take on the reality of a writer’s life, which has little to do with literary parties and a lot to do with jealousy, writer’s block and going for broke with each paragraph. Marvelously wise and, best of all, great reading.”— review

Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, by Natalie Goldberg
“To write memoir, we must first know how to remember. Through timed, associative, and meditative exercises, Old Friend from Far Away guides you to the attentive state of thought in which you discover and open forgotten doors of memory. At once a beautifully written celebration of the memoir form, an innovative course full of practical teachings, and a deeply affecting meditation on consciousness, love, life, and death, Old Friend welcomes aspiring writers of all levels and encourages them to find their unique voice to tell their stories.” —Free Press

The Elements of Storytelling: How to Write Compelling Fiction, by Peter Rubie
Rubie boils it all down: what a story’s main function is, what it consists of, the three steps to a successful story (yep, just three), even what pages the climaxes of the beginning, middle and end should happen on. That may sound a little confining, but what he’s offering are building blocks—points of departure—just like all those grammar rules that you’ve learned when to follow and when to break. It’s actually a liberating read. Here’s a sample of Rubie’s advice: “I am suggesting that you try to find that part of yourself that, under certain circumstances, you could imagine going berserk and committing singularly antisocial acts.” Go crazy.

The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer, by Sandra Scofield
This one is as valuable for writers of memoirs as for fiction writers. If you’ve ever been advised to show more and tell less, Scofield shows you when and how to do it. She shares invaluable insights into processes that don’t come naturally to many of us, including the seamless introduction of description and emotion into the action; the creation of focal points, which all scenes need; the building and release of tension; bringing characters to epiphany; segueing out of and back into narrative; getting settings to project emotion; and evaluating your writing objectively. She also tells you what to leave out of a scene. We all know some writers who could use a little guidance in that area, no?

The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist, by Thomas McCormack
If you’ve never heard of jolt-sources or the master-effect, it’s about time. By the time you’re done with this one, you’ll be wondering why these concepts aren’t common knowledge and why the concept of “theme” commands such reverence. If, as Walker Percy said, the point of a novel is to capture what it’s like to be alive at a certain point in time, how valuable could theme possibly be? How often do you see theme at work in your life? Instead, McCormack focuses on a novel’s emotional impact on the reader and how to devise and sustain it over the course of those 100,000 words. No easy feat, but McCormack takes a lot of the mystery out of it. 

On Becoming a Novelist, by John Gardner
In this classic, Gardner succinctly puts everything into perspective like only a great writer can. He addresses the necessity of loving all your characters. Like McCormack (see above), he dispels the importance of theme, or meaning, and he diverts our attention toward the importance of the story itself. He leaves no doubt that a writer must deliberately cultivate “strangeness” in his work (“the one quality in fiction that cannot be faked”). And he sets the record straight once and for all regarding showing vs. telling: “Good writers may ‘tell’ about almost anything in fiction except the characters’ feelings.” Simple as that. If anyone tells you otherwise, ask him if he really expects you to take his word over John Gardner’s.   


Getting Published

Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents 2012
“Writers, agents, and editors agree that Herman’s Guide is in a league of its own. It unravels and clarifies a complicated and intimidating process and provides innovative strategies and road maps for maximum success. Knowledge will displace mistakes and power will displace fear. The names, personalities, and specialties of thousands of editors and agents, the so-called gatekeepers, are exposed, as are ways to get them to see what you write. Herman’s insights are a joy to read. If you want to understand the publishing business and how to get published for the best terms possible, then this book is created specifically for you.” —Sourcebooks

Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye, by Katharine Sands
“Learn the secrets of Pitchcraft. With advice from 40 top agents and industry experts, this book is full of sample query letters, pitching techniques, tales of pitching woe and wonder, valuable lists of dos and don’ts, and revelations of the likes and dislikes of top agents in the field. Includes advice from Robert Gottlieb, Donald Maass, Jane Dystel, Michael Larsen, Sheree Bykofsky, Jeff Herman, Sarah Jane Freymann, Meredith Bernstein, Harvey Klinger, and others who represent the full range of bestselling and prize-winning authors and their books.”—Watson-Guptill

Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 Proposals that Work and Why, by Jeff Herman and Deborah Herman
The authors take you through 10 proposals that sold to major publishers and show you what worked and why it worked. The book covers how to position your book so it stands out from the competition, what editors are looking for, and how to write an effective sample chapter, author biography and cover and query letters.

*Look for Toni Robino’s chapter “Secrets of Ghostwriting and Collaboration Success” in The Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers & Literary Agents, by Jeff Herman, and her chapter “This Pen for Hire” in Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye, by Katharine Sands.



American Societies of Journalists and Authors
“The nation’s leading organization of independent nonfiction writers,” ASJA offers its members professional development aids, such as confidential market information, an exclusive referral service, seminars and workshops, and networking opportunities.

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs
This website offers information about the AWP annual conference, a list of writers conferences, a list of AWP member schools, articles and information on writing and writing programs, and a sample of articles and news from the AWP magazine The Writer’s Chronicle.

The Authors Guild
The Authors Guild offers contract advice, a legal search database, information on electronic rights and how to join the organization, a bulletin index, publishing-industry news and gossip, a listing of board members, and current articles regarding the publishing field. The site also includes a link for, an online bookstore featuring out-of-print editions made available by their authors.

Writers, Agents and Editors Network
WAENet joins writers and industry insiders for a virtual writers conference.

Writer Entrepreneur
WENet provides tools and hosts groups that help the serious writer become the successful writer in the ever-changing publishing industry.