For one thing it's easier than writing. For another, they get inspiration that way. They learn from other writers. They filter their ideas through other writers' stories. They moan and gnash their teeth and say, "I wish I'd written that!" And sometimes they even say, "Well, I can't do it. I can't write any more. I'm finished. All the good stuff has been written. I'm done."
Been there? Done that?
Me, too. Most of us have. Especially when we're in the middle of a book.
Since FinDaBoo started way back in the beginning of the year, I presume that some people have actually finished their books. Maybe they've even sold them. Maybe they've started on another.
Or maybe not.
Since The Powers That Be at The Pink Heart invited me to be a columnist and have asked me to talk this month about finishing the book -- and since I've often been in the middle of things and thrown up my hands and said, "Argh!" or words to that effect -- I thought I would share with you some of the books that make me sit back down and get to work again.
Some of these you are probably already aware of. Anyone who read my blog last spring knows one of them well because I blogged about it endlessly. And I still think it's fantastic. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Here they are -- and a few reasons why they are on my shelf to be picked up and delved into whenever the muse has gone walkabout (and not taken me with her. Or him)
Anne LaMott's Bird By Bird is the book I look to when I wonder why I ever thought I should be a writer in the first place. She doesn't talk about structure or grammar or characterization or plot. There are any number of books you can read if you want to read about those things. She talks about being a writer -- about dealing with the head games that writers inflict on themselves, about the sh*tty first drafts that we all have to work through because it's not going to be deathless prose to start with, about getting through a book "bird by bird" and not being overwhelmed by the need to write 300 pages by next Friday.
Any writer who has ever been plagued by worry, self-doubt, misery, self-doubt, angst, self-doubt, financial woes, self-doubt or -- did I mention self-doubt? -- should have Anne LaMott's Bird by Bird handy. It will prove to you that you're not alone, and that keeping a sense of humor is vital if you want to both keep your sanity and finish your book.
The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler has been on my shelf at least as long as Anne LaMott's book. For others who are by nature plotters and who don't need outside help to think things through, this book might not be in your top five list. But for those who are driven by characters who sometimes seem both inebriated and incompetent (not to mention bad drivers) The Writer's Journey is essential. Looking at the stages of the hero's journey, as Vogler describes it using a variety of films and screenplays, keeps me on the path toward the end.
Realizing that my characters -- and I -- have a tendency to go a little bit crazy when we are faced with "stage 6" where the whole world is available and choices have to be made, gives me the vaguest of guidelines, but it somehow provides enough support for me to get through it. And I don't panic as often now. I know it's just part of the process now, part of the journey. BV -- Before Vogler -- I didn't have a clue.
So if you have great characters in search of a plot or a little bit of structure to help them find their way, Vogler's book might be for you.
I've read and kept a number of other books over the years -- many are excellent. I have learned things from them that have made me a better writer. But the last one in my own personal triumvirate of books I will not be without is one I read just this past spring. I checked it out of the library, not wanting to lay out more hard-earned money for a book I'd read once.
I laid out the hard-earned money for Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit as soon as I read the following: "I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab."
I knew she was absolutely right. Writing is less about blinding inspiration and deathless prose and Great American (British, Australia, etc. Take your pick) Novel. It's about routine, about habit, about the same sort of 'bird by bird' stuff that Anne LaMott writes about.
It's also about "scratching" -- coming up with material, finding a new way to look at something, not settling for the first thing that comes to mind. It's about being in ruts and finding grooves. It's about creating "out of the box" but recognizing that you need a box before you can do any such thing.
Every time I dip into The Creative Habit, I come away with new purpose. I come away inspired, alive, ready to tackle whatever it is I'm dealing with at the moment.
I have a lot of other books on my shelves -- books I read when I was a child, books that I read when I first came to writing romance, books that have touched me deeply and have resonated with my heart and soul. They inspire me, too. I'm sure you all have your own "keepers," too. I have great books by other writers talking about writing, too.
But these three are the ones I go back to again and again whenever I'm starting, struggling or finishing a book. Take a look at them. Then tell me what you think.
What Very Important Books are on your shelf?