Books on the Writing Life Log Out | Topics | Search
Moderators | Register | Edit Profile

Topics | Last Day | Last Week | Tree View | Search | User List | Help/Instructions | Program Credits Administration
Night Shade Message Boards » VanderMeer, Jeff » Books on the Writing Life « Previous Next »

Author Message
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

JV
Posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2004 - 09:16 am:   

There are, I think, not too many books aimed at advanced writers of fiction, or even intermediate writers of fiction. I'm working on an article--lazily, in the afterglow of so much work--on writing books. The ones I go back to again and again are by David Madden and Carol Bly. I hate those Writer's Digest books for the most part.

But I wonder if any of you have recommendations on (1) writing books that go beyond the basics and (2) writing books that address the mindset needed for sustaining a career--whether talking from a Zen perspective or whatever; I'm talking about the psychology of long-term writing, how to get through setbacks, etc. I rather think there aren't many books of this nature, either. And I'm curious.

JeffV
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Jamie
Posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2004 - 11:23 am:   

Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun and Profit and Spider, Spin Me A Web. I find them invaluable, and they address a lot of what you mention -- the psychology of being a writer, how to get through setbacks, and so on. Great.

I liked Stephen King's On Writing when I read it, but I don't remember it too clearly. But definitely, the Block books are, IMNSHO, amazing.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

AliceB
Posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2004 - 01:12 pm:   

Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE is fun, and I think covers a lot of what you asked about. Although useful for the novice, I think the advice is even better for someone interested in sustaining a career.

Alice
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

AliceB
Posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2004 - 01:21 pm:   

Also: Virginia Woolf's A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN--a useful and still relevant perspective.

Vladimir Nabokov's LECTURES ON LITERATURE. These are mostly essays about various author's works (instructional and interesting in their own right) but the first essay, "Good Readers and Good Writers" covers the writers' world, from Nabokov's perspective.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

M.K. Hobson
Posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2004 - 03:11 pm:   

THE ADDING MACHINE by William Burroughs is one of my favorite books on writing. It's a collection of essays, and he comes across sounding clear and surprisingly down-to- earth.

M
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

MarcL
Posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2004 - 05:42 pm:   

The ones I've read that made any kind of impression were Dean Koontz's WRITING POPULAR FICTION, which I read a couple times when I was a teenager and which impressed me mainly for its unbending rule: Forge forward, one page a time, make each page as good as it can be, and never go back and rewrite. The guy's pragmatic, you gotta hand him that, and it certainly worked for him. At the time this book came out, he was still quite a few years away from being a household name.

Then there's Damon Knight's CREATING SHORT FICTION which is, unsurprisingly, full of useful practical advice.

L. Sprague de Camp wrote a very hard-nosed SCIENCE FICTION HANDBOOK which was also full of useful business advice.

John Gardner's ON FICTION is notable mainly for a bunch of technical exercises which are really extremely educational, not to mention fun, for writers at all levels. I wish there were more of these around. They're sort of like chess puzzles for writers...ways of developing your technique without realizing that's what you're doing.

None of these dwells in much detail on the writer's life. The best education in that department is to find someone who is living it, and see if they can abide your presence. A freelance writer's existence is certainly not for the weak-hearted. I've seen (and practiced) enough of it to know I don't really want to attempt it again until I've fashioned myself a braided gold safety net.

There are certainly many novels which capture the essence of the writer's life. For some reason A FAN'S NOTES springs instantly to mind.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Chris Roberson
Posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2004 - 07:30 pm:   

I remember being quite impressed with the essays in Gene Wolfe's CASTLE OF THE OTTER (repackaged later with THE BOOK OF DAYS as CASTLE OF DAYS by Tor), in which Wolfe talked at length about how he'd managed to write so much for such a long time while keeping a full time "day job," as well as lengthy discussions about craft, themes, naming characters, and such like. I read it years ago, when I thought I'd already learned all the "tricks" of the trade, and it only served to teach me how much more I had left to learn.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Deborah
Posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2004 - 09:46 pm:   

Bruce Holland Rogers' WORD WORK is all about the writing life and is quite good.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Minsoo Kang
Posted on Thursday, July 15, 2004 - 12:02 am:   

Mario Vargas Llosa's 'Letters to a Young Novelist'. A lot of good advice, and ends with the exhortation to ignore all the advice in the book and make one's own way.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

EricS
Posted on Friday, July 16, 2004 - 10:55 am:   

Like the previous post, I think that John Gardner produced some wonderful nonfiction on how to write. I was just unpacking some boxes of books that had been in storage, some for more than a decade, and I found his "The Art of Fiction." In addition to those exercises mentioned above, this includes incisive analyses of how fiction can affect the reader (why some things work well and some things are difficult to pull off).

Also by him, although I have not read it yet, is "On Becoming a Novelist" which, I believe, deals more with the writing life--or as Gardner phrased it the questions he gets asked most frequently after giving readings.

I am always impressed by the strong mark that Gardner has left on the authors that came through his writing classes. Jeffry Ford comes immediately to mind. Also recently heard was a quote from Raymond Carver in which he said that he never forgot having Gardner go through a story of his line by line and force him to justify the inclusion of each line in the story.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

richard
Posted on Saturday, July 17, 2004 - 01:23 am:   

You might have a look at Raymond Chandler's collected letters - not really a handbook for anything, but some remarkably penetrating insights into writing for both the page and the screen, as well as being tremendous fun. Above all he has a very hard headed, no-nonsense approach to the commercial practicalities of the profession which I think you need if you're in for the long haul.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

JV
Posted on Saturday, July 17, 2004 - 07:15 am:   

Thanks, guys.

I like the Gardner books, but they're about the art of it, not so much the mental parts of it. I also think his analyses of how fiction can affect the reader are interesting, but there've got to be things written since that go farther and deeper.

The collected letter of Chandler I hadn't even heard of! I'm going to find that right away. Thanks, Richard.

Jeff
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

mike bishop
Posted on Saturday, July 17, 2004 - 09:05 am:   

I second Deborah's citing of Bruce Holland Rogers' Word Work. I also like Janet Burroway's textbook Writing Fiction, now in about its 6th edition, and Wallace and Boisseau's Writing Poems from the same publisher. Annie Dillard is good, too, and you can pick up a good deal of interesting information from the letters of Flannery O'Connor, although you'll get also get an awful lot of (often quite funny) talk about her illness, her mother, the family farm, and Catholic theology. I'm also very fond of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, already mentioned, because Lamott is funny as well as practical in dispensing advice.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

LeslieWhat
Posted on Saturday, July 17, 2004 - 09:29 pm:   

Dennis Palumbo's "Writing From the Inside Out" is really really good. Palumbo is a psychotherapist and successful writer and a great speaker as well.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

JV
Posted on Sunday, July 18, 2004 - 08:18 am:   

Thanks, Mike, Leslie.

I'm now thinking I should explore the collected letters of various writers I admire, Mike and Richard, given your two suggestions.

I hadn't heard of Palumbo's book.

This is a very valuable list.

I've read the Bruce Holland Rogers, and I think it's very valuable, except in places...well, I felt Rogers was making justifications/excuses for areas of his own career (hey, we all do it!). Other than that, I loved it.

He really needs a message board on this site, I think.

JeffV
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

AliceB
Posted on Sunday, July 18, 2004 - 11:55 am:   

If you're interested in letters, you might consider DEAR GENIUS: THE LETTERS OF URSULA NORDSTROM collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus. Nordstrom was the director of Harper's Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973 and this is a collection of letters to many of the writers whom she edited, including Maurice Sendak, E.B. White, Margaret Wise Brown, Shel Silverstein, John Steptoe and many others. The letters provide another perspective on writers' lives--as viewed from the professional and concerned "other".

Alice
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

MarcL
Posted on Monday, July 19, 2004 - 12:41 am:   

In the aforementioned de Camp book, L.S.d.C. made a comment that has haunted me ever since. I don't have the book handy, but it was something like, "Writing fiction is one of the few endeavors that becomes more difficult with practice."

Feel the burn.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

mike bishop
Posted on Monday, July 19, 2004 - 01:46 pm:   

The Art of the Novel by Oakley Hall, a writer of Western novels and screenplays, is a remarkably helpful guide, too, by the way.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

gary gibson
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 02:47 pm:   

You might be amused to know there's a book called 'How Not To Write A Novel: Confessions of a Mid-List Author', by David Armstrong, a crime writer. It's about surviving as a published novelist, as opposed to gaining acclaim. I've not read it, but it's on my Eventually list.

'Did you Know' note, regarding Dennis Palumbo, mentioned above ... did you know he wrote an sf novel, 'City Wars', in the mid-Seventies? Almost proto-cyberpunk, as I recall. I've got a copy on my shelves.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

JV
Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004 - 08:20 pm:   

Gary--The Armstrong sounds great!

As does the Art of the Novel, Mike.

Jeff

P.S. Gary--sure you don't want a message board?
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

gary gibson
Posted on Saturday, July 24, 2004 - 06:11 am:   

Ah, fuck it, yeah, Jeff, give me one. I'll whore myself for fame and money, dammit.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

JV
Posted on Saturday, July 24, 2004 - 06:38 am:   

That's the spirit!! One message board coming right up.

Jeff
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

LeslieWhat
Posted on Saturday, July 24, 2004 - 10:49 pm:   

Didn't know about Palumbo's sf book. Knew he wrote screenplays. This thread reminds me that I've been wanting to find copies of the Paris Review Writers at Work Series, especially cool because the books were published for readers interested in reading about the writers they read.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

nealasher
Posted on Monday, July 26, 2004 - 12:46 am:   

'Write Tight' -- William Brohaugh. Always woth a consultation if you find your writing getting fat and flabby.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

mike bishop
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 06:12 am:   

And there's a good series of interviews with contemporary writers in the archives of the New York Times, by the way. Some time back I printed out interesting ones by Elmore Leonard and Annie Proulx.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

John Thompson
Posted on Monday, August 02, 2004 - 11:54 pm:   

I would add Moorcock's DEATH IS NO OBSTACLE. Even though it is out of print, it is worth tracking down. He has a great grasp of structure and communicates that understanding with clarity and wit.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

jeff ford
Posted on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 05:18 am:   

Jeff: As far as your earlier post goes, concerning a book that talks about the depth of writing, the psychology of it, etc. Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist does discuss this stuff -- the vivid and continuous dream, auto-hypnotic trance, writer's block, etc. He had a whole metaphysics of writing, but it, like all the rest of them, and I've looked at quite a few over the years, are only so helpful or instructive. The problem is when you get to that level of thinking about writing, it's where it splits away and becomes more and more idiosyncratic to the individual writer the deeper you go. The writer's psychology, personal experience, desire, is inseperable from writing and story. Writers have written some very eloquent and interesting stuff about this aspect of writing but it's usually good for one person, the person writing it. I'm afraid you can't get someone else to do this work for you, in other words.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

jeff ford
Posted on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 05:52 am:   

This is one of those things where the more you think about it, the less you know.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

JV
Posted on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 07:01 am:   

Yes, but it's interesting to compare and contrast the thoughts of various writers on the same subjects. Sometimes they'll be talking about the same thing, even in only a slightly different way, but it resonates differently with me, and is either more useful conveyed through the words of one particular writer, or the difference between the way one writer expresses it and the way another writer expresses it is what carries the use for me.

I've often thought of doing a book on creative writing, but when I really sit down and look at the advice I think might be universal, it becomes a chapbook, and then a one-page manual.

JeffV
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

jeff ford
Posted on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 07:27 am:   

Jeff: Agreed on both statements.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

John Thompson
Posted on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 08:53 pm:   

Here's a question for all: What is the one piece of advice or counsel you wish a compassionate professional had given you when you first embarked on the writing path?

By the way, good to see you, Jeff.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Barnaby
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2004 - 03:48 pm:   

Speaking of yer actual Zen perspective, Ray Bradbury's ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING is an inspiring one.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

AliceB
Posted on Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 07:36 am:   

This is a late entry, but a interesting perspective from Anne Lamott:

http://www.salon.com/weekly/lamott960909.html

Alice
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

AnnaT
Posted on Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 02:38 pm:   

About Wodehouse (my personal pick of if-you-were- stranded-with-only-one-author's-works):
"That he fathered more than ninety books, as well as plays, screenplays and musical lyrics would strike most people as accomplishment enough for a single lifetime; that each work involved vast preliminary sweat, and that in many instances a book had to be hacked down from a draft three times its length, suggests that the author may have immunized himself against the customary blessings of sleep. Wodehouse scholars, whose findings are always instructive, and by whom you should make every effort not to be buttonholed in enclosed spaces, have long since revealed that what really gripped and pained the man was not the tireless, ludic aplomb of his linguistic feats . . . but the tough narrative structures that lay below. The bones almost killed him, in other words, while the flesh just flowed into place. It's as though we discovered a note in Shakespeare's own hand, explaining that Hamlet's soliloquies just came to him over breakfast, smooth as honey, but that for the life of him he couldn't work out how to get the gloomy bugger on and off the stage."
--Anthony Lane, from his introduction to Wodehouse's Heavy Weather (Penguin)

Add Your Message Here
Post:
Username: Posting Information:
This is a private posting area. Only registered users and moderators may post messages here.
Password:
Options: Enable HTML code in message
Automatically activate URLs in message
Action:

Topics | Last Day | Last Week | Tree View | Search | User List | Help/Instructions | Program Credits Administration