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.

Writing is a craft that I continually work on. 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 over the years about how some people have accomplished what they’ve done has helped me set goals for my own writing, and reach high.

I could read about writing until the cows come home. (“What cows?” asked my then-four-year-old with a puzzled look, once, when I used that expression.) Though it’s best to put down the books and hit the keyboard from time to time.

Here are just some of the writing books on my shelves, which I’ve loosely grouped into categories here. I have learned from or been inspired by many of these.

BUSINESS

Early on I realized that you are only a hobbyist, and will likely get nowhere as a professional 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 (they were right!):
  • 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.
  • 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, long ago, 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. That was terrific in teaching me how to just sit down and do it. When I had several articles due each week, I also got over my reticence about calling people to ask questions. 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 doesn’t always pay enough to pay the bills. There are a few people who only write for national magazines and make a good living, but you cannot count on that these days. If magazine freelancing is your plan, you’d better start out with 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 what they do. Computer? Typewriter? Pencil and pen? Schedules? Rituals? Isabel Allende always starts writing a new novel on January 8th, because that’s the date she started her very successful (and wonderful) novel House of the Spirits. (It’s one of my favorites.)
  • 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
Some of my work 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 want to 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:
  • Too Lazy To Work, Too Nervous to Steal: How to have a great life as a freelance writer, by John Clausen

Image © Tanjaru | Dreamstime.com

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What She Learned About Jack

micRead this article and you’ll understand why I’m interested in gathering and writing personal histories.

It’s called What I Learned From Jack, and it’s from Barbara Allen Burke’s excellent blog I Am Story.

An excerpt:

For the past 2 ½ years, I’ve had my version of Tuesdays with Morrie. I’ve had “Wednesdays with Jack.” Just about every week—with occasional breaks for holidays or travel—I’ve spent a couple of hours with a bright, engaging 89-year-old former military colonel and inveterate sailor. Each week, I’ve gone to Jack’s apartment, armed with a tape recorder, my laptop computer, and an atlas. Jack sits in his favorite chair and I set up my equipment and sit next to him. And then we talk. Read the rest

Click over and you can read a little bit about Jack, and why putting together his family and personal history was so satisfying and rewarding to Barbara.

What a life! (Bonus points if you get it right: Am I talking about Jack, or about the writer?!)

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Why I’m Bad At Scheduling Meetings

calendar

Wow, this article, which my Twitter friend Pierre Omidyar posted about today,* really resonated with me.

It’s called:

Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule

and it’s by Paul Graham, and it starts like this:

One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more.

 

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started….

[The bold is mine.]

Read the rest here. It’s really a good read.

This article made me sit up straight. It sounded in my head like the loudest tuning fork. I never thought about it these words, but it’s so true. Needing to schedule a meeting can throw off the rest of my work day. It felt comfortable and reassuring to see someone else describe something I’ve often struggled with.

Now: I hesitate to post this because I don’t want you to think for a second that I don’t want to meet with you. If you have a potential writing project and would like to sit and chat about it with me, I would be happy to meet with you. It’s part of the job and I’m happy to do it.

I’m good at making time away from my desk useful — and everybody needs to step away from the desk, out into the world and get things done from time to time.

But I was just so interested in this article and wanted to share it. If you’re a writer or other creative type who needs hours at a time to get anything done, you will understand this!

* Pierre Omidyar is my friend in the same way that anybody can follow Oprah on Twitter. 

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/theogeo/ / CC BY 2.0

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Writer/Editorial Consultant

One of my specialties is that I write for businesses.

typewriterkeys1

Here’s what you’d find if you read my Copywriting page:

These days it’s especially important that your business stands out. That it gets noticed. How do you make that happen?

We work together and make sure your potential clients know your story.

When there are two comparable brands of the same product available, which one do people buy? They buy from the company whose name they remember. The company they know something about.

• The one whose products win awards.

• The one whose president builds Habitat for Humanity homes on weekends.

• The one whose product came about because Grandma won a ribbon at the County Fair when she was a girl.

Let’s tell your story – in whatever way makes sense for your particular business. I can help you figure that out.

As a writer and editorial consultant, I help with your written communications.

I work with some clients occasionally, as needed for a specific project, and others on an ongoing basis. My clients set the pace: Some know exactly what they want. With others, we brainstorm together to find the right mix of keeping their company name out there, showing their products in the best light and catching people’s attention.

Perhaps you haven’t been sending out press releases to announce new happenings with your products, your industry and your employees, and consequently your company name isn’t in the forefront of people’s minds as it could be. I can help you clarify your message, figure out what needs to be written, as well as when and how, and get it done.

Maybe you want to resurrect or start up a newsletter in order to be in better touch with your clients. I can help with that. Do you need:

·      Fresher website copy?

·      A letter to go out to your customers/clients?

·      A media kit?

·      An employee manual?

·      A blog?

May I ghostwrite a newspaper or trade magazine article for you and make sure it gets into the right editor’s hands?

·      Need help crafting a speech?

·      What about a brochure or some other written material?

Because I’ve been doing this for some years now, I have lots of ideas and a good sense of what works and how to do it.

In addition, one of my strengths is taking information and asking the right questions until the details and especially the significance – the importance – are clear to everybody else, too.

It means you may have to answer a lot of questions at first, but I am good at pinpointing the questions that need to be asked and won’t waste your time. And as I get to know your company better over time, our work together will become even more powerful.

One of my long-time clients hired me as a result of Honolulu magazine assigning me to write about his business. After that article appeared, he called me and said that in all the articles that had been written about his business over the years, no one had ever gotten his story just right like I did.

Yet all I did was listen. I didn’t assume which were the important aspects of his story; I listened to what he told me was important, and I shaped the article around that.

I don’t write about his business for magazines anymore; now I write about his business for him. We’ve been working together now for years.

If you could use help with your business’s written materials – and telling your stories clearly and effectively – I’d be happy to discuss how we might work together.

Please call me at 808 964-1494, or email me at leslie AT leslielang.com.

If you know of someone with a business that might need a writer, or your neighbor is a marketing person, or your sister-in-law is a decision maker in a small company, would you please pass on my info? I appreciate people spreading the word.

Connect me with someone needing a business writer/editor and I’ll get you in the next big movie. You know, if I can. Like, if pigs started flying and big movie producers started Twittering with me and stuff  like that.

But let people know about my business and I’d appreciate it, anyway.

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New York Times: News Without Newspapers

An article in tomorrow’s New York Times is titled ‘Hyperlocal’ Web Sites Deliver News Without Newspapers.

If your local newspaper shuts down, what will take the place of its coverage? Perhaps a package of information about your neighborhood, or even your block, assembled by a computer.

A number of Web start-up companies are creating so-called hyperlocal news sites that let people zoom in on what is happening closest to them, often without involving traditional journalists.

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It’s very much like what has sprung up over at FBI blogs, to which I belong. (And when I say “sprung up,” I mean “consciously created by forward-thinking Damon Tucker.”)

The FBI blogs site it not quite as hyperlocal (the article talks about areas as small as a block). By definition (“From Big Island”) we FBI bloggers are from around the whole island.

I think it’s really a terrific idea. I’m not exaggerating in the least when I say that I browse the site everyday and learn all sorts of things that aren’t in the local paper.

From the article:

But many hyperlocal entrepreneurs say they are counting on a proliferation of blogs and small local journalism start-ups to keep providing content.

“In many cities, the local blog scene is so rich and deep that even if a newspaper goes away, there would be still be plenty of stuff for us to publish,” said Mr. Holovaty of EveryBlock.

Sounds familar.

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Our “On The Cheap” Sites To Launch 3/10

Leslie: “Oh, nothing much; what’s new with you?”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS:
Leslie Lang
hawaiionthecheap@gmail.com
808 964-1494
Twitter: @LeslieLang  

Kris Bordessa
hawaiionthecheap@gmail.com
530 295-0887
Twitter: @KBordessa

“On The Cheap” Websites Highlight Best Bargains on the Big Island and in Honolulu

Hilo, HI – March 6, 2009 – Tuesday, March 10th is the official launch of two new online sites – Big Island On The Cheap and Honolulu On The Cheap – which are dedicated to bringing Big Island and O‘ahu residents and visitors up-to-the-minute information on free, discount and cheap things to do and other local deals.

Motivated by the current coupon-clipping climate, Big Island writer Leslie Lang and former Hawai‘i writer Kris Bordessa started the websites, which are updated most weekdays, to help Hawai‘i’s residents and visitors get out and about “on the cheap.”

To celebrate the sites’ launch, both Big Island On The Cheap and Honolulu On The Cheap are having daily contests for the first week – or more – starting March 10th. “We’re all about deals, so we’re getting off to a good start by giving away all sorts of great Hawai‘i-related gifts,” says Lang. “Chuck Moore hula girl t-shirts, Macario photographic prints, locally created ceramics from the Hilo art gallery High Fire Hawai‘i, some Hawai‘i-related books, a gorgeous woodblock print donated by Volcano Artist Margaret Barnaby and there will be some other surprises, too.”

In addition, Big Island On The Cheap.com is offering printable, discount coupons to ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, and Honolulu On The Cheap.com is offering discount coupons to the Waikiki Aquarium. “We are excited to promote both of these great attractions that we ourselves enjoy,” says Bordessa, “and also honored that they were so enthusiastic about offering support to our new venture.”

Over the past several weeks, thrifty readers of Honolulu On The Cheap and Big Island On The Cheap have learned about free Hawaiian music concerts, yoga classes, history lectures and even an Avocado Festival. That’s in addition to dozens of deals on everything from malassadas and sub sandwiches to hotel rooms.

“Everyone—including us—is looking for deals right now,” says Lang. “And they’re out there. We’re just trying to make it easy for people to find them.”

Listen for Leslie Lang on the radio Tuesday morning; she’ll be discussing the websites and their official launch at 8:05 a.m. on the Big Island’s Mynah Bird show, which is at KHBC/92.7 FM and KONA FM at 92.1 FM.

Big Island On The Cheap and Honolulu On The Cheap are part of a rapidly growing network of independently owned and operated “On The Cheap” sites, which are launching nationwide on March 10. A complete list and links to Cities On The Cheap websites are available here.

About Leslie Lang
Leslie Lang is a Big Island–based freelance writer who works as an editorial consultant (writing press releases, newsletter items, blogs, speeches, reports and more for businesses), as well as a freelance magazine writer and book author who specializes in writing about Hawai‘i. She blogs at http://blog.leslielang.com.

About Kris Bordessa
Kris Bordessa, formerly of Hawai‘i and now living in California’s Gold Country (where she also runs Gold Country On The Cheap) is the author of several books and writes regularly for national magazines about family travel.

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“This I Believe” on the Importance of Preserving Family Stories

I mentioned that I’ve become a member of the Association of Personal Historians, and I just listened to an interesting “This I Believe” audio story by Stefani Twyford, one of its members, on Houston Public Radio. She talks about family stories and working as a personal historian. From her essay:

Each time I coax a story out of a client, I am excited at the richness of each person’s experience. When the son or daughter of a subject says, “I’ve never heard that! How did you get that story out of her?” I glow inside and feel that I have worked the magic that is my job. I rejoice when extended families get together to watch the video biographies I’ve created for them. And when I hear how many boxes of tissues were needed while viewing the video, a part of me gets emotional, even though it isn’t my family or my story.

It’s an honor and a privilege to help people tell their stories and put it down on a medium that will last. I know that when a great-grandchild asks, “Who was my great-grandfather?” there will be not only a photo and a story, but the child will hear his great grandfather’s voice, see his mannerisms, and hear those stories first-hand.

Listen to it here.

She really captures the magic of capturing people’s stories and preserving them for future generations.

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2009: My Power Freelancing Year, In Spite of the Economic Disaster

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, which usually just end up being rather disappointing.

But like many people, I do tend to get reflective at the end of the year. Doesn’t it seem like a perfect time to pull one’s thoughts together and plan for a fresh new year coming up? While our bodies are relaxed and full of hot cider and snowball cookies, the new year always seems full of delicious possibilities.

This year, in my reflections, I knew that I’m ready to have a Power Year in terms of my work as a freelance writer.

Does that surprise you, in these times of economic disaster? Though I will undoubtedly have to market myself harder, companies that need to increase their own marketing in this tough market are still hiring writers. And I do several different kinds of writing, which gives me options.

More than ever, I still maintain that working for oneself, for many different clients who work in many different industries — clients that you can add to or replace as needed — is a more secure way to make a living than counting on one employer that could let you go at any time.

I have many specific ideas about what “Power Year” means to me — in terms of income goals, increasing my base of steady clients and doing some different, new-to-me types of writing. I have broken down my goals into categories that I want to further, or work toward, or start on. And I’ve written down the specific, strategic steps I want to take in each area. 

I put it all in writing. And at the end of each month, I will check that document and see how I’m doing and if anything seems to be falling off the radar. I will start a section with the month’s name and note what I accomplished.

I know that I achieve so much more this way than if I merely slogged through my year a day at a time. Maybe some people can do that. But I need to have a plan laid out in front of me if I want to move forward and achieve more than just the same old thing.

The other thing I did before the New Year was to clear off my desk, which has a tendency to get a little chaotic at times (and then, consequently, so does my brain). Both were like that — messy and needing tending — at the end of 2008.

It feels wonderful to sit here at a neat and tidy desk, everything I am actively working on in a short, reasonable pile to the left of my computer. 

You might think what your writing (or other) goals are this year. Then break them down into “actionable” steps (don’t you hate that word? I do). 

(I hate it so much that if I think of a better word while lying in bed tonight, I will get up and change it.)

If you’d like to propose a newspaper column this year, maybe your first steps are to read a couple books about how to write newspaper columns, and scour the web for everything that’s been written about it. Write down those steps.

Maybe your next steps would go something like this:

• Call XX, a local newpaper columnist, and ask to buy her lunch and have an informational interview about column-writing and writing for her newspaper.

• Pinpoint your column’s focus, title and approach.

• Write six sample columns.

• Get feedback from trusted writer mentor or friend.

• Revise.

• Approach newspaper editor at XX with your proposal.

• If no, approach second choice newspaper editor.

Write down your goals and the steps you’ll need to take to reach each one. Then look at that list every work day and move down it. One thing at a time. Knock ’em off.

Even if you don’t fully achieve your end goal — and you might — having a plan will get you much, much closer to it than just muddling along.

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Procrastination and the Freelance Writer

Procrastination is not the freelance writer’s friend. 

Of all the suggestions I’ve heard over the years regarding being an efficient freelance writer, one of the best has been to start on an assignment as soon as you get it.

I try to do this and it really works. Sometimes it’s just getting started that’s the hardest part of writing something. So even if I just jot down some notes regarding how I plan to approach the story, gather up background research and set it aside in a folder, or make a list of possible interview subjects and find their contact information, it means I’ve already plowed in. When I’m ready to devote my attention to that assignment, it’s all downhill.

In related news, I was amused when I came across this Procrastinator’s Clock.

If your procrastination problems mean you have difficulty getting out the door, or to appointments on time, check it out. It’s guaranteed to be up to 15 minutes fast. However, it also speeds up and slows down in an unpredictable manner so you can’t be sure how fast it really is

Good grief. It would drive me nuts. But it is amusing.

And it makes me glad I work at home, in my comfortable office, where I work hard and put in a lot of hours, but where 15 minutes one way or the other usually just isn’t that critical.

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