Writing Craft and Community

spare parts for writing a storyI was stuck with my novella, not a bad stuck, just a point when I needed to stop, think, and realign characters and plot.

I pulled a couple of craft books from my shelf at random in the hopes of sparking an idea, or finding a new way to see my material.

  • “Naming the World” (ed) Bret Anthony Johnston
  • “Burning Down The House” Charles Baxter
  • “Creating Fiction” (ed) Julie Checkoway

Writer Unboxed

Not an hour later, I was reading a blog post from Writer Unboxed about the issue of craft books. Although many people shared their favorite craft books and inspirational authors, a number of comments expressed quite a lot of antagonism towards craft books – e.g., craft books are only written to make money; you can’t learn writing from a book…

I was very surprised because I think of writers/artists as curious people and would have thought they would want to see what other people think or try. After all, you don’t have to believe every suggestion in a book or do everything the book says. But sometimes a new idea can set off a whole slew of fresh possibilities.

(If you are looking for craft book recommendations, you’ll find an excellent list in the comments on this post.)

Donald Maass

Several of the comments mentioned Donald Maass. I find his posts in Writers Unboxed invariably useful. On a whim I googled his name and to my delight found this list of his novel writing prompts on Elissa Field’s blog. I only read the first one – “What’s the worst thing your MC does?” because it prompted so many ideas that I had to get them down in my notebook. So much food for thought here – a banquet.

Chuffed Buff Books

Another post – this one from Chuffed Buff Books: their April A-Z Challenge takes on a variety of topics relating to ‘Tales of Mystery, Suspense & Terror’. My novella has a ghost (although it’s not a ghost story). This list of “alternative phantoms from global folklore” was perfect timing. (“F is for Favorite Phantom” – 6 April 2014)

Peter Matthiessen

On Facebook (just a couple of minutes I swear!) I saw a link to a Paris Review interview with Peter Matthiessen. I’d not read any of his work, but something in the little blurb spoke to me so in I went… In the middle of the interview, Peter Matthiessen described a complex character and I instantly realized the problem with my difficult young lad. I was out of the link and writing in seconds!

(Then I rushed off to my local library to get out one of his books – “Snow Leopard”. When I got home, I picked up the newspaper and right in front of me was Peter Matthiessen’s obituary.)

I would be lost without my community of writing friends and mentors, but there is another community that I would be equally lost without – my ‘community of words’. These words, in book or on blog, whether fiction, non-fiction or poetry, whether literature, about literature or ‘how to do literature’, support and encourage and enlighten me in so many ways.

And if a writer does make money? Fantastic! What could be better than a writer making money?


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