This week, YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday asks us to Share your most inspiring and/or motivational video, book, or quote on writing. All those NaNoWriMo participants out there nearing November’s half-way point could probably use an extra push toward the finish line.
I have not read very many “inspirational” writing books. Back when I was just starting out, I tended to buy the nuts-and-bolts how-to books, read partway through, or just bits and pieces, then set them aside. I did read The Elements of Style (by William Strunk & E.B. White) cover to cover many years ago (it’s a real hoot), and back in 2000, I devoured Stephen King’s On Writing. I highly recommend both of those.
There are a couple of inspirational/how-to-write books that most people rave about, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Story by Robert McKee, that I started but couldn’t finish. I’m a severe plotter who does lots of advance prep. Then when I finally start chapter 1, I switch gears and become a very instinctual writer. Lamott’s and McKee’s books just made my eyes glaze over. However, many, many people have recommended these books, so I’m sure they have much of value in them. Just not for me.
Now on to some writing advice. The first is from romance goddess Nora Roberts, and came to me via a talk given by the incomparable romance author, Anne Stuart. Back when I was writing romance, I belonged to Romance Writers of America, and Anne came to speak to our local chapter. She quoted something Nora Roberts had said: I can fix a written page. I can’t fix a blank page. This one piece of advice has pushed me through book after book, shutting up the little editor in my head with the clear knowledge that I can fix it later. Nothing is set in stone. Nora said so.
As a companion bit of advice, Anne herself said something that night that has bolstered me many times when I have struggled to write even one page, when the words sit sullenly at the back of my head and refuse to step into the light. Anne said (and I paraphrase here), If you look the pages that were like pulling teeth to write and compare them to the pages that just flowed easily and beautifully, you won’t be able to tell the difference between them. In other words, even though you’re certain that pages you struggle to write are awful crap, they’re not. They’re just as good as those breeze-to-write pages and just as ready to be “fixed” as advised by Nora.
If I may, one bit of my own advice. As I mentioned, neither Bird by Bird nor Story resonated with me. By the time they came along, I already had a methodology that worked. I’ve tweaked my writing method over the years, but the basic system has remained the same.
If you’re just starting out as a writer and checking out various methods/structures to find what works, that’s great. But every writer is different. Some things you try will not work for you. Other methods that you find are perfect for you won’t work for others. Never judge yourself because you’re, for instance, a pantser, when everyone else in your critique group insists you should always plot first. Don’t freak out when you go to a conference workshop and the speaker tells you about a work style that doesn’t sync with yours. You’re not necessarily doing it wrong just because you’re doing it differently. The only real must is to continually improve the quality of your writing and storytelling.
So how about you? What books or advice have inspired you?