Is Fear Keeping You from a Writing Career?

On Writing by Stephen King

You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.

—Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

The definition of cowardice is “lack of courage to face danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc.”

Ask yourself for one moment what your feelings have been on the eve of some act involving courage, whether it be physical courage, or moral or intellectual . . . what has happened to you? If it has really called forth courage, has it not felt something like this: I cannot do this. This is too much for me. I shall ruin myself if I take this risk. I cannot take the leap, it’s impossible. All of me will be gone if I do this, and I cling to myself. 

And then supposing the Spirit has conquered and you have done this impossible thing, do you find afterwards that you possess yourself in a sense that you never had before. That there is more of you? . . . So it is throughout life . . . you know “nothing ventured nothing won” is true in every hour, it is the fibre of every experience that signs itself into the memory.

—John Neville Figgis

Your Audience Should Not Be “Everyone”

I have spent a good many years since – too many, I think – being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.

– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Even 200 years ago authors knew that a book cannot – and should not – please everybody. Here’s Jane Austen (in her usual tongue-in-cheek style) writing a letter to her sister the year that Pride and Prejudice was published:

I had had some fits of disgust [with Pride and Prejudice] . . . The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade, it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had; if not, of solemn specious nonsense, about something unconnected with the story; an essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte or anything that would form a contrast, and bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness and epigrammatism of the general style. I doubt you’re quite agreeing with me here. I know your starched notions.

Ironically, it’s when a writer writes with a narrow scope and only a small target audience in mind that her work has the greatest chance of pleasing the masses. So hunker down in your literary niche and let the world find you.

*Photo by Richard Kardhordo @ 500px / CC BY

You’ve Got to Read If You Want to Write

Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Last year I returned to my book roots. I did read a couple of new ones, but I mostly went through my stack of old favorites – because, as King also said: “Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.” The verdict? I like wizards and witty (if not slightly disturbed) damsels:

  • Harry Potter 1-7 by J. K. Rowling
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
  • Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding
  • A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Whenever I’m apathetic about my writing, I find that it’s usually because I’m trying to be someone I’m not – trying to impress a potential agent, editor or reader. Reading books that I admire, written by authors who have stuck to their literary guns come rain, snow or evil review, inspires me to stay true to myself.

*Photo by Zoran Mesarovic 500px / CC BY

Top 5 Best Books on Writing in 2012

I keep a running list of all the writing books I’ve read. Here are the ones I got through last year, along with my five recommended favorites:

The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within by Alan Watt

How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II by James N. Frey

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland

You Can Write a Novel by James V. Smith, Jr.

Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson

Creating Strong Protagonists by William C. Martell

Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias

Your Screenplay Sucks!: 100 Ways to Make It Great by William M. Akers

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron 

The Essential Guide to Writing a Novel by James Thayer 

And the books that won a spot in my Top Five are . . . 

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors (and Screenwriters!) by Alexandra Sokoloff: I took away some great ideas from this book written by a screenwriter turned author. We’re living in a digital age and the gap is narrower than ever between the pace a reader expects in a movie and what she expects in a book. (Reread Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. You’ll be surprised how much slower it is than you remember.)

Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish with Confidence by Roz Morris: I’m not a big fan of those ra-ra-listen-to-your-inner-spirit books (no offense, Natalie Goldberg). By the end of them I’m thinking, Great, so I’m in touch with my inner writer, now what? I prefer books that give you a little ra-ra, but then go on to tell you how to get your writing butt in gear. This is one of those books.

Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy: My expectations were low for this book (who could blame me with the title?). But this book covers a lot of important ground. My two biggest takeaways were 1) their reassurance that every writer usually serves a long and frustrating apprenticeship; and 2) their explanation of  both what a pitch is and what it is not.

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks: This book has gotten a few lengthy negative reviews (like this one) because the author can come off as repetitive and defensive. I’ll admit that I did have to slog through chunks of it, but Brooks won me over when he opened my eyes to the bare bones of plot structure presented in a way I had never considered before. I wrote an in-depth analysis of how Brooks’ story structure applies to the Harry Potter series.

On Writing by Stephen King: I’ve never read a single Stephen King book (I stay a good aisle or two away from the horror section of the bookstore), but I loved King’s book on writing. It’s interesting, funny, and inspiring (and not nearly as long as his novels!).