Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Hi Cozies! May marks spring's answer to National Writing Novel Month (November): MayNoWriMo! To learn more, visit Joely Sue Burkhart's site! Joely Sue was kind enough to let me blog about MayNoWriMo here at Cozy on my birthday! Yay!

Is it any surprise that nine times out of ten as writers we turn to books if we ever need to learn or be motivated? 2010 is the five-year mark for me as a full-time writer, meaning I actively began seeking publication in 2005.

Exactly five years ago today for my 19th birthday, my dad bought me The Marshall Plan for Getting Your Novel Published by Evan Marshall. This book was a crash course in everything I needed to know about the submission process, which takes you step by step through everything from researching agents and editors, formatting, and even gives examples of query letters, long and short synopses, and the right way to package a requested partial or full manuscript. It introduced me to terms I would soon use every day: genre, sub-genre, word count, and—my favorite because it took me weeks to figure out what it meant—SASE. It advised me on how to keep a submission log to keep track of my submissions, an organization process my very unorganized self learned to appreciate in later years. It also introduced me to writing organizations like RWA and conferences and contests. This book was instrumental in leading me down the right path to publication.

In my 11th grade AP English/Language Arts course, my teacher made the entire class buy copies of Lucille Vaughan Payne’s The Lively Art of Writing. The title of this book always cracks me up because grammar is a hell all its own to some people, me included, and both this book’s title and its cheerful yellow cover beam like a housewife from one of those ads from the ‘50’s. The joke was in fact on me, I discovered, because Lively whipped me into grammatical correctness. Well, not quite. But most of the way :)

Along the way, I sought advice and publication stories from other writers. My favorite among these books is How I Write by Janet Evanovich and On Writing by Stephen King for obvious reasons. However, it’s easy to overlook books like The Official Nora Roberts Companion or The Black Dagger Brotherhood: An Insider’s Guide by J.R. Ward. First of all, just looking at Nora’s backlist in her official companion is inspiration alone for me. But she also talks about her chief motivating factor when she sits down to write: fear that the words won’t come. My favorite quote from the book concerns writer’s block, which she doesn’t believe in: “Writing is a job. You do your job. People in other professions don’t get blocks. Have you ever heard of plumber’s block?” In Ward’s Insider’s Guide, she dedicates a small part of the book to her writing process. Quotes like “Write. Out. Loud.” and “Plotlines are like sharks: They either keep moving or they die” have been posted on my office’s dry erase board ever since.

A writer’s process can’t be learned, in my opinion. A plotter can’t be changed into a pantser. A pantser can’t be changed into a plotter. You are what you are. There are books that help both and those are the ones that I looked for most. For example, Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel or Dianna Love and Mary Buckham’s Breaking Into Fiction, which uses foolproof templates to plot—a method even stalwart pantser Sherrilyn Kenyon swears by. I attended Love and Buckham’s workshop at the Silken Sands Conference on the Beach in 2008 and took away invaluable “hook” placement and pace-keeping techniques I’ve used ever since in plotting and writing. If I ever need a plotting kick in the pants, I turn to Kelly L. Stone’s Time to Write: More Than 100 Professional Writers Reveal How to Fit Writing Into Your Busy Life. Stone interviewed authors like Sandra Brown, Catherine Coulter, Christine Feehan, Eloisa James, Jodi Picoult, Debbie MacComber, Hallie Ephron, and so many more as well as breaks down the excuses and blocks writers blame for not writing in addition to practical steps for finding time to write no matter if you’re a full-time writer or a working mother. It’s impossible not to be motivated to write by this book.

It’s important to research. This was never made clearer to me than when I read Lee Lofland’s Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers. I knew nothing about forensics or proper police procedure until I read this book. Lofland points out that writers have a responsibility to use fact when writing about something as intricate as police procedure and not make it up as they go. Because of fake methods popularized by television shows like CSI, court cases have been held up thanks to misinformation and thanks to people who just plain didn’t do the research. This guide took me layer by layer through being an investigator and how to become one as well as offered personal accounts from the line of duty that were just as important to me while I was plotting my second paranormal as anything else in the book.

Motivation is key when in writing. That would explain why my copy of Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird is so dog-eared. Also a comfort? Madeleine L’Engle’s Circle of Quiet. The book that gives me a sure kick in the pants when I’m lacking in the motivational department? Again I turn to Kelly L. Stone and her second book, Thinking Write: The Secret to Freeing Your Creative Mind, which shows you how to unlock your writing potential by using the power of your subconscious mind. This book helps me defeat that little self-defeating voice in my head.

From the beginning of my writing journey, inspiration has come in many forms. Above all, I began writing romance thanks to inspiring real life love stories. That’s why I bought and continue to go back to Larry King’s Love Stories of World War II and Gerda Weissmann Klein and Kurt Klein’s compilation of personal post-war love letters entitled The Hours After.

On that note, I’d like to start a discussion. Since MayNoWriMo is in full swing, I want to know about what books motivate or inspire you as a writer or have been instrumental in either your writing process or your path to publication? And thank you to Joely Sue for letting me share with all MayNoWriMo participants on my birthday :)


Jeff Rivera said...

I think mine would be "I'd Rather Be Writing" by Marcia Golub and "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" by Stephen King because I like to mix a little humor into my craft :)

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Hi Jeff - thank you for visiting! I love Stephen King's "On Writing." "I'd Rather be Writing" is one I haven't read yet. Thank you for the recommendation - I'll be sure to look for it!

Jeff Rivera said...

Np, what book are you currently working on?