Books on Writing

I guess it’s no surprise there are so many books about writing. We writers need something to write about, and some of us write about writing. And then the rest of us read about it.

Writing is a craft that I continually work at. In college I majored in journalism, and since then I have continued to take writing classes (both in person and online), participate in professional writers’ groups and online forums, and sometimes in local writers groups.

And I also read how other people have succeeded as writers. How they do it. Their tips.

They’re just like us, most of those other writers. We’re all just people sitting in front of a yellow pad of paper or a laptop, starting with a blank screen and a head full of ideas. Reading about how some people have accomplished what they’ve done has, over the years, helped me set goals for my own writing, and reach high.

I could read about writing, instead of sitting down and actually writing, until the cows come home. (“What cows?” asked my four-year-old with a puzzled look when I used that expression the other day.) It’s a terrific means of procrastination.

Here are just some of the books on my shelves, which I’ve loosely grouped into categories. Some of these books are better than others. Many I’ve reread, and learned from or been inspired by.

BUSINESS

You are only a hobbyist, and will get nowhere as a freelance writer, until you accept that it’s a business and you need to be businesslike (in setting goals, where you focus your efforts, calculating your overhead and knowing how much to charge, protecting your copyrights, handling accounting, paying taxes and much more). Some creative sorts have to really force themselves to buckle down and learn the business aspect of being a self-employed writer. Here are some books that can help: 

  • The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing, ed. by Timothy Harper
  • This Business of Writing, by Gregg Levoy
  • Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer, by Jenna Glazer
  • Six-Figure Freelancing, by Kelly James-Enger

 

BY WRITERS ABOUT WRITING

I don’t know how to group these books, some of which inspired and convinced me I could quit the day job and live happily as a writer.

  • Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
  • The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard
  • If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland
  • Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande
  • Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
  • Living the Writer’s Life, by Natalie Goldberg
  • Thunder and Lightning, Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft, by Natalie Goldberg
  • Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
  • Making a Literary Life, by Carolyn See
  • On Writing, by Stephen King
  • No Mentor But Myself: Jack London on Writing and Writers, ed. by Dale L. Walker and Jeanne Campbell Reesman

 

FICTION/NOVEL WRITING

What pondering these titles from my bookshelf tells me is that I have long wanted to delve more into fiction and novel-writing. But I knew that already. Maybe I’ll reread some of these and get started soon.

  • On Becoming a Novelist, by John Gardner
  • On Teaching and Writing Fiction, by Wallace Stegner
  • The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner
  • Writing the Novel, by Lawrence Block
  • Writing Fiction, by Janet Burroway
  • How to Write a Book Proposal, by Michael Larsen
  • The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, ed. by Meg Leder, Jack Heffron and the editors of Writer’s Digest

 

MAGAZINE/NEWSPAPER WRITING

I have done an awful lot of this. I started out writing an occasional freelance piece for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and then got a regular freelance gig working for Hilo’s Hawaii Tribune-Herald, where I wrote features and entertainment articles every week. Like most newspapers it paid poorly but, in retrospect, it was terrific in teaching me how to just sit down and do it. I also got over my reluctance to call people when I had several articles due each week. That was worth it all right there. 

After that I started writing for magazines. More interesting, more in-depth, more time for craft. Yet it still doesn’t pay enough to pay the bills. I know there are a few people who only write for national magazines and make a good living, but that’s not the norm. If magazine freelancing is your plan, you’d better have some other income, too.

  • The Art and Craft of Feature Writing, by William E. Blundell
  • Writing for Story, by Jon Franklin
  • Creative Nonfiction, by Philip Gerard
  • Story, by Robert McKee
  • Handbook of Magazine Article Writing, ed. by Jean Fredette
  • You Can Write a Column, by Monica McCabe Cordoza
  • The Renegade Writer, by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell
  • Travel Writing, See the World, Sell the Story, by L. Peat O’Neil
  • Literary Journalism, ed. by Norman Sims and Mark Kramer

 

MEMOIR

  • Living to Tell the Tale, A Guide to Writing Memoir, by Jane Taylor McDonnell
  • Inventing the Truth, the Art and Craft of Memoir, ed. by William Zinsser

 

ON WRITERS

It’s aways fun to read how other writers do it. Computer? Typewriter? Pencil and pen? These books are much more than just that, though.

  • Writers on Writing, Collected Essays from the New York Times
  • The Writer on Her Work, by Janet Sternberg
  • The New New Journalism, ed. by Robert S. Boynton

 

COPYWRITING 

A lot of my work these days falls under the category of copywriting. These books were somewhat interesting as I started out writing for businesses, but I’ve found that I figured out a lot of it by myself, along the way. The Well-Fed Writer is currently a bible to some copywriters.

  • The $100,000 Writer, by Nancy Flynn
  • The Well-Fed Writer, by Peter Bowerman
  • Secrets of a Freelance Writer, by Bob Bly
  • The Copywriter’s Handbook, by Bob Bly

 

RADIO

This is one of the few books from my long-ago college journalism days that I’ve kept. I have worked in public (and commercial) radio a little bit, and really enjoyed it. I keep the book in case I get back into it one day. Cool book.

  • Telling the Story, the National Public Radio Guide to Radio Journalism

 

LASTLY

And, my favorite title of all though (to be honest) I don’t remember a thing about the book itself:

  • Too Lazy To Work, Too Nervous to Steal, How to have a great life as a freelance writer, by John Clausen
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Isabella Bird & Other Historical Non-Fiction to Read While Traveling

I have a good friend coming to visit here on the Big Island next week, a history buff like me, and I’ll have to find out if she’s ever read Isabella Bird.

isabellabird

I love reading an interesting book about a place while exploring it, and I highly recommend Isabella Bird’s book if you’re planning to visit (or if you live in) Hawai‘i.

I can remember reading Sarum when visiting Salisbury Cathedral, and Jane Austen in, of course, Bath. And Michener’s Iberia (or parts of it anyway; I remember a great section on gazpacho that sent me seeking the stuff at every turn) while in Portugal. And, oh, The Agony and the Ecstacy while in Rome — that was a wonderful decision.

Isabella Bird was born in England in 1831, and (from Wikipedia), “was a sickly child and spent her entire life struggling with various ailments. Much of her illness may have been psychogenic, for when she was doing exactly what she wanted she was almost never ill. Her real desire was to travel.”

Gotta love that. 

She sure did travel. Among many other adventures (and writings), she was in Hawai‘i in the 1870s, and later wrote the book The Hawaiian Archipelago: Six months among the palm groves, coral reefs, and volcanoes of The Sandwich Islands. She was a thorough, descriptive and upbeat writer and I enjoy reading her accounts. I also admire her for traveling alone as a woman in the 19th century and having so many great adventures.

Here’s a description of Hilo from her book:

What Honolulu attempts to be, Hilo is without effort. Its crescent-shaped bay, said to be the most beautiful in the Pacific, is a semi-circle of about two miles, with its farther extremity formed by Cocoanut Island, a black lava islet on which this palm obtains great perfection, and beyond it again a fringe of cocoanuts marks the deep indentation of the shore. From this island to the north part of the bay, there is a band of golden sand on which the roar of the surf sounded thunderous and drowsy as it mingled with the music of living waters, the Waiakea and the Wailuku, which after lashing the sides of the mountains which give them birth, glide deep and fern-fringed into the ocean. Native houses, half hidden by greenery, line the bay, and stud the heights above the Wailuku, and near the landing some white frame houses and three church spires above the wood denote the foreign element. Hilo is unique.

Hilo still looks pretty much like that! I can picture it. It’s a great book if you’re interested in reading more, and it’s easily available in paperback.

What books have enriched your travels? I’d love to hear.

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Hilo Rated a “Dream Town”

It’s official, though we here in Hilo already knew it. 

Hilo is one of the country’s “Dream Towns.”

Bizjournals.com just reviewed 140 “micropolitan areas” in the country (From Bizjournals.com: “A micro consists of a central community with 10,000 to 50,000 residents, along with the surrounding countryside. It is, in effect, a small-scale version of a metropolitan area.”)

Hilo came in #41.

This really isn’t a surprise to most of us who live here. It truly is a wonderful place to live. The town is fronted by a beautiful crescent bay lined with coconut trees. Unlikely as it sounds, the bayfront is void of development (because of the area’s propensity toward tsunami–which is, perhaps, one of the only non-dreamy aspects) and is, instead, parkland. It is lovely.

Buildings in downtown Hilo are all low-to-the-ground, nothing more than two stories, and many were constructed in the early 1900s and so there is interesting architecture everywhere. I wrote a book called Exploring Historic Hilo if you’d like to read more about the town’s history, and see some terrific old photos.

There are good restaurants, interesting shops and one of those terrific old movie theaters, the Palace Theatre, that shows art house movies. The farmer’s market at the corner of Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street sells amazing tropical flowers and even more amazing tropical fruits (think lychee, rambutan, papaya, mango, durian, longan and dragonfruit, just off the top of my head).

The air smells of salt and flowers and the pace is slower here, and that suits us just fine. It’s a casual, laidback lifestyle with lots of friendly people. If you see someone walking around in a suit and tie, they’re certainly here on business from somewhere else.

Bizjournals.com used different categories than mine to come to its conclusions. It used U.S. Census Bureau data to analyze 20 statistical categories — such as population growth, commute times, median household income, poverty rate, unemployment rate, homeownership rate, and others — to calculate each town’s “quality of life” score and rank the cities. 

In 2006, Hilo’s “micropolitan area” (Hawai‘i County) had a population of about 171,000, the average work commute took 25 minutes and residents had a median household income of $55,390.

Here are the country’s top 10 “dream towns,” but I’m happy here in #41. I’m not going anywhere.

  1. Bozeman, Montana
  2. Jackson, Wyoming
  3. Durango, Colorado
  4. Easton, Maryland
  5. Laramie, Wyoming
  6. Edwards, Colorado
  7. Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
  8. Pierre, South Dakota
  9. Silverthorne, Colorado
  10. Los Alamos, New Mexico
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Do You Use Google Alerts?

 

Google Alerts

I have a Google alert set up, which is how I knew that the L.A. Times just published an article on Mauna Kea, and that it mentions the book I co-authored with David Byrne (the one who is not of the Talking Heads).

Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Mauna Kea — One of the best books on Mauna Kea, written by Onizuka Visitor Information Station manager David Byrne and Big Island writer Leslie Lang, is Mauna Kea: A Guide to Hawaii’s Sacred Mountain, published by Watermark Publishing (tel. 866/900-BOOK; www.bookshawaii.net). The book has everything from the cultural history of the sacred mountain to her natural history, even great insights on the scientific value of the dormant volcano. Plus, the authors give you valuable tips on how to make the most of your visit to truly one of the wonders of the world.

Do you use Google alerts? They can be an incredible tool.

When I’m researching something to write about, I’ll set up a Google alert for awhile on that topic. It is very handy, and efficient, to receive an email with just about everything that’s recently been written on a topic.

I also have a handful of others set up — on my name (in quotation marks), and on each of my book titles. I like to know where these phrases pop up around the web. And I have a couple alerts set up for topics I like to follow.

It takes only seconds to set up a Google Alert. Try it!

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