Hello readers, July is almost over and that’s good and bad. Good because CambridgeEditors is about to be up and running at full capacity in a day or so; bad because my time at CambridgeEditors is almost up. Never fear, soon there will be other interns to man the blog and you will gain a fresh new perspective on writing and literature. Also, I’ll remind everyone that Dr. Weiner is preparing herself to begin blogging. Perhaps I’ll open up a new page on the blog just for Dr. Weiner’s own musings and tips.
In other news I’d like to make sure people keep a look out for a new CambridgeEditors special and to go to the website for news on the Dr. Weiner’s workshop, which she will be hopefully teaching in the fall. If you can’t take the class in the fall but would like to, never fear! CambridgeEditors will be hosting the class several times a year.
Now I’d like to make another list of sorts since I got such good feedback on the “Sandor’s Booklist Blog.” This one is going to be another book list, but it’s going to be a special one. I’ve often said that writing and reading are two of the best ways to improve your writing. Like the old joke goes, “how do you get to carnegie hall? Practice Practice Practice.” When it comes to writing the joke is “how did Joyce become a great writer? He wrote.” I just made that up–hopefully it sticks. However, practicing is not always enough.
Let me see if I can explain it with a simple analogy. Say I want to be a major league pitcher, which until I was a sophomore in high school was in fact my dream. I can watch every single game, trying to analyze the way pitchers throw. But when it comes time for me to practice I can’t throw as well as the pros. This is for two reasons. One I’m not a muscular freak of nature, and two no one taught me the right mechanics. It’s not enough to be able to throw, you have to throw correctly.
It’s similar for writing. You can write until your fingers have blisters, but if you keep making the same mistakes you’re not going to improve. So I’ve compiled a short list of 7 books that will help you become a better writer. These books cover everything from the technical aspect of writing, to the thematic
1) Elements of Style-William F. Strunk and E.B. White
This is a basic manual for writing every kind of composition, be it fiction, non-fiction, essays. This is not a book of grammar as one of my English professors once corrected me, it is a style book. And as far as Style goes you can’t get any better. Along with commonly misused and misspelled words, Professor Strunk included various writing rules like, “omit useless words.” Seemingly standard advice, but someone had to say it first and Strunk was that someone. I find myself constantly going back to Strunk and White’s book when I’m writing essays for school. It is a must have for writers at all levels
2) The Hero with a Thousand Faces-Joseph Campbell.
Joseph Campbell was a mythologist as well as a writer and he is best known for bringing modern psychological insights to ancient mythology. The Hero with a Thousand Faces is a sociological study into what makes myth and stories tick. For example, Campbell examines what elements make up the hero’s journey. Anyone who wishes to write fiction should dive into this book to glean the necessary information on what makes fiction so important as a cultural tool and how to introduce meaningful thematic content into text.
3) The 3 A.M. Epiphany/ The 4 A.M. Breathrough-Brian Kiteley
If you want to write fiction then you should at least have one prompt book. My favorite books of prompts is the breakthrough/epiphany series. Now you may be asking, what are prompt books? These books give you topics to write about that will help you develop specific skills like dialogue, character creation, point of view. These books assign you different tasks and ask you to complete them in a very small amount of words. My favorite exersise is the idiosyncratic character prompt; an exercise that asks you to write a scenario where a character with a strange way of looking at the world is uncomfortable. I’ve come up with a whole lot of characters with this prompt; from a guy who describes everything in terms of deli meat to a woman who values friendship as if she’s at a doll collector’s auction.
4) Man and his Symbols-Carl Jung
This posthumous work of Jung was meant for the everday person. Jung wanted to explain his theories of symbols and psychology in a way everyone could grasp. How does this help your writing? Writing is all about assigning meaning to symbols, at least according to the modernists. In addition, a grasp on psychology and how the mind works helps the writer better mirror reality through language. Also it’s just a fascinating read.
5) Grimm’s Fairy tales-The Brothers Grimm
I love fairy tales. I think they’re a great way to examine cultures and literary themes. You can tell a lot about a people based on their folklore, urban legends and mythology. For example, have you ever noticed that American ghost stories take place in the woods whereas British ghost stories take place in cities. The reason has to do with the dehumanizing force of the industrial revolution that took place in British cities. If you read fairytales you’ll gain a basic grasp on significant cultural values as well as basic themes that are repeated throughout other forms of literature. The brothers’ Grimm book of fairy tales is a great way to get started.
6) The Complete Sherlock Holmes-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
These stories rely on the fundamentals of logic and the law of action and reaction. Reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle can help you establish logical story lines that take character motive and backstory into account. Also reading about Sherlock Holmes is just a really good time.
7) How Fiction Works- James Wood
Whether you are an accomplished writer or you’re just starting out, James Wood’s book is a standard tome that should be on every wordsmith’s bookshelf. How Fiction Works starts by answering the question of what exactly does a novel do and moves on to more complex topics like what exactly makes a character novelistic; should we only see the actions of a character or should we as readers be given a personal look into a characters mind. Wood takes his readers through his favorite novels and literature, (from Balzac to Updike), to illustrate his point. On top of that Wood is a great writer and he makes the dissection of fiction incredibly fascinating.
That is my quick list of books that can make you a better writer. Of course they’re are countless other but these are just my favorites. Keep writing ya’ll