Sunday, June 22, 2008

Two Writing Books

Some time ago I was sent a review copy of Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method, and although I read most of it, I never got around to commenting. Now that I'm into that time of year when teaching is finished and my brain is slowly coming back to its more creative mode, funnily enough this is when I like to read books about writing.

At first, I wondered why Weinberg would write a book about writing - he seemed to be a software guy who wrote technical manuals. But it's probably the reason why he comes at writing from a different perspective, what he calls the fieldstone method. Most of his book is about ways of gathering pieces of writing, without a fixed aim in mind. Rather, you write many things and then decide how to place them together (like building a stone wall). His first rule is: Never attempt to write something you don't care about.

I like the huge amount of writing exercises he provides. Certainly you'll never have to worry about writer's block with this book. I'm not so sure about his theories on how you put it all together - how you take those pieces and construct a wall/novel. But if you are the kind of writer who isn't anal about starting at page 1 and writing to page 300 via your outline, this book might be very useful. Weinberg also has a blog about writing, which has some good pointers on it.

My second book is one I have only just started reading, but I bought it because another of Lyon's books - The Sell-Your-Novel Toolkit - is one of the best I've read on getting your novel out there with query letters, marketing and approaching agents and publishers. The new book is Manuscript Makeover, and I'm always on the look-out for ways to tackle revision. So far I have read about working from the inside out (the heart of your novel) and the outside in (matters of style and language). I'm already taking notes, and making a great working list of elements I need to look at in my current work, and address. Even down to things such as the first and last sentence of every chapter and scene, and the first and last word of each paragraph.

It's too easy in revision to do a bit of tapdancing around the edges, to cut bits out and correct some grammar and think you're done. I like her suggestion of slow reading - to read some of your novel in a quiet space and "become" your character, totally immerse yourself in the experience on the page and see if the emotional depth is happening. If not, imagine how you would feel in this situation and then put it into the story. Another word for tapdancing in revision is skimming - this book won't allow you to do that, if you use Lyon's approach. I'm looking forward to the rest of it.

Also on my pile of writing books (not yet read) is a new one on writing for young adults by K.L Going - Writing and Selling the Young Adult Novel. There aren't many around on this topic. Sherry Garland's book has been the one I've mostly used in class for years now, so I'm keen to see how Going's shapes up.


Kristi Holl said...

I'm definitely going to look into the Manuscript Makeover book. I appreciate your reviews. In this day and age when you have to produce pretty tight and refined first submissions, deep revision is so critical. Also, if you do paid manuscript critiques, I like to be able to point people to good resources.

Anonymous said...

I probably should read the Weinberg book, I am forever stopping projects because they are suddenly out of order and the whole thing is too frustrating to rearrange.
Thanks for your reviews!