Three Kinds of Writing Books Every Writer Should Read, Part 1

Today, part one of my series “Three Kinds of Writing Books Every Writer Should Read” was featured at The Caffeinated Writer. Enjoy!

The Caffeinated Writer

Part 1: The Craft of Writing

What’s the most important rule of writing a novel? Get your butt in the chair and write. Got that? Good. But what’s next? What will take you from hack to Hemingway? Here’s an idea: read.

Read the kinds of things you want to write, of course. Then read things thataren’tlike what you want to write. Read classics. Read poetry. (I’ve heard that Ray Bradbury read poetry every day. Reading his work, I believe it.)

But if you really want to write, then make sure you read books abouthowto write, and how tobea writer. And then read them again. While there’s no shortage of writing advice out there on the internet, do yourself—and your readers—a favor and dig a little deeper. Make these three kinds of writing books a part of your regular reading diet:

  • A book aboutthe…

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Audacious Writing Week, Day 2… and excerpts of eloquence

It’s Audacious Writing Week……… Day 2!

So far so good. Made my goal on Monday, more than 3,000 words written in five different scenes in the final act.

Yesterday, on my way to a coffee shop near Saint-Michel (for my third writing session of the day), I took a wrong–yet serendipitous–turn and came across this statue of that most celebrated of essayists, Michel de Montaigne.

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Michel de Montaigne, by Paul Landowski. Situated across the street from the Sorbonne.

Notice his shiny shoe: apparently students think it’s good luck to give it a rub before an exam. Of course, this is the guy who is largely responsible for popularizing the essay form. Not sure how many students want to thank him for that…

Today, instead of hitting a coffee shop, I met with my writing group for conversation, a bit of critiquing, plenty of eating, and yes, even some writing.

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The writing group spread: camembert, baguettes, pickles, salami, prosciutto, ham, coffee… my contribution was the chocolates from Jeff de Bruges. They say you can never go wrong if you show up with chocolate!

Whereas yesterday was all about getting some scenes into shape, today has been mostly work on backstory, world building, and solving story problems. So not as much “real” writing, but crucial stuff nonetheless. And I’m already well on my way to my daily goal: just 850 words to go.

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Before I sign off today (and get back to drafting/outlining/world-building), here’s a lovely little morsel from Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence (which I’ve been re-reading on my writing breaks). From Chapter 1, Alliteration:

You can spend all day trying to think of some universal truth to set down on paper, and some poets try that. Shakespeare knew that it’s much easier to string together some words beginning with the same letter. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. It can be the exact depth in the sea to which a chap’s corpse has sunk; hardly a matter of universal interest, but if you say, ‘Full fathom five thy father lies,’ you will be considered the greatest poet who ever lived. Express precisely the same thought any other way–e.g. ‘your father’s corpse is 9.144 metres below sea level’–and you’re just a coastguard with some bad news.

Why does The Tempest still get put on every year by a theatre company near you… even though nobody has spoken like Shakespeare for hundreds of years… even though there’s no shortage of playwrights, no shortage of plays… Is it the universal truths he serves up? Perhaps. Or is it his use of language, his turn of phrase? Maybe it’s actually the alliteration after all…

The Elements of Eloquence

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I chanced to pick up this book today from one of the shelves lining the narrow stairway at Shakespeare & Co. as people were crowding up behind me. I literally glanced at the cover, snatched it off the shelf and pushed my way on up the steps to the reading room, found a place on one of the ancient couches and opened it up to read:

“Shakespeare was not a genius. He was, without the distant shadow of a doubt, the most wonderful writer who ever breathed. But not a genius. No angels handed him his lines, no fairies proofread for him. Instead he learnt techniques, he learnt tricks, and he learnt them well.”

With that opening gambit, I was hooked. The author, Mark Forsyth, goes on (skipping a bit) to say:

“Shakespeare got better and better and better, which was easy because he started badly, like most people starting a new job.”

An astonishing assertion, perhaps, but he makes a good case for his position (which I won’t trouble to quote here). At which point he declares:

“Shakespeare got better because he learnt. Now some people will tell you that great writing cannot be learnt. Such people should be hit repeatedly on the nose until they promise not to talk nonsense anymore.”

Yes, yes, yes!

Forsyth then gets into the meat of his introduction, laying out his program for the book, which is to elucidate, chapter by chapter, the various “rhetorical figures” that form the basis of great writing. Not sure what the rhetorical figures are? You’re not alone. While Shakespeare learned (or learnt if you’re British) them in school, they don’t get taught much anymore. But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter, that they don’t work, or that they’re somehow irrelevant.

“The one line from that song or film that you remember and don’t know why you remember is almost certainly down to one of the figures, one of the flowers of rhetoric growing wild.”

Again, yes.

Do you use words? Do you do any writing? Any writing at all? Then read this book. How wonderful it would be if facility with words wasn’t just the province of the chosen few, the so-called geniuses, but something ready to hand for all who wish to communicate. Read this book. At the very least you will be entertained, for Mr. Forsyth knows his craft. I’ve been by turns amused, enlightened, impressed and amused once again with each successive chapter (and did I mention that I just picked it up today?).

If you write, read this book.

(I’ll save you the web search: find it on Amazon here.)