Writing is Like Yoga: Books for Improving Craft and Career

Writing is like practicing yoga: it’s truly a practice. You work at it all the time, and you re-visit the basics of your craft on a daily basis. You might have your off days.  You have other days when you’re hitting on all cylinders. Hopefully, you improve over time.

If you’re like me and work mostly alone, you need an occasional class, conference, or book to perk you up, force you to work on improving your craft, or help you figure out some way to pay the bills from your writing.  Many of us have read the classics on writing: Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. All of them are wonderful and have encouraged thousands of writers.

If you’re into writing for the long haul, you might need something new to help you muddle through that first draft, reach your readers in meaningful ways, and get the reader’s attention and eyes on your book in the first place. Here are several books I’ve found helpful recently. If you have some to add to this list, I’d love to get your suggestions!

Hooked: write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go, by Les Edgerton (This is a great little book on the basic craft of fiction. While the emphasis is on first scenes and first chapters, there’s also lots of good guidelines on stuff like backstory, foreshadowing, and structure.)

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, by Lisa Cron. (This book goes into the role of story in human culture and what goes on in the reader’s head when she reads fiction. Very readable and helpful in looking at the big picture of fiction.)

Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone In Between, by James Scott Bell. (This book, quite frankly, pulled me out of a ditch on my current novel. I was hopelessly stuck as to where to go with the story, and this little book helped me get on track and get going. It’s only 85 pages, but it’s a small gem of a book that can make you sit back and think.)

Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers, by Lauren Sapala (Many writers are content to work holed-up in a room, all by themselves, talking only to their cats. Marketing and publicity don’t come easily to those of us who are practically hermits. Lauren Sapala will gently convince you to crawl out of your hole and –gasp– engage with the rest of humanity for fun and profit. An excellent book.)

If you have other writer-ish books to recommend, please feel free to comment!

Blessings, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of “Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us,” along with two novels and two resource books on leading young people to take care of the earth. 

 

 

 

Bestselling Novels – Is There an Algorithm for That?

A Review of The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers

What makes one book “take off” and sell a zillion copies?  If you love novels (or write them), you surely have pondered this question.  But is it possible to answer the question of what makes a bestseller using science and a computer?

Yes, it is.  In their new book, The Bestseller Code, Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers have done just this.  It’s all about pattern recognition, which computers do quite well.   The authors, a former editor and an English professor, fed the manuscripts of 20,000 contemporary novels into a computer program and came up with commonalities of books that “take off” and become bestsellers.

Proof that their algorithm works?  The two authors the computer targeted as most likely bestsellers are two authors who are very famous and household names.  (I won’t spoil the book by telling).  Many of the books ranked highly by the computer are indeed bestsellers, including the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey.  (Love it or hate it, you probably need to have read this book – and other recent blockbusters – to fully appreciate this research.)

As a writer myself, The Bestseller Code gave me very valuable insights as to “what works” and what I need to avoid in my writing.  I was thrilled to find that books with characters who are “femme noirs” are likely sell lots of books, at least for now.  I wonder if this research will need updating in future years.  But for the meantime, this book gives writers truly valuable information to use in their work, along with interesting information for bookworms and those who just plain love to read. The tone is conversational and easy to read.

Does The Bestseller Code give us all “the secret” or “the code” for writing a surefire winner of a novel?  I’ll have to say no to that one.  The book the computer picked as most likely to be a bestseller is a novel I had never heard of, though by a very fine writer you probably have heard of.  (Again, no spoilers here.)  The book is certainly not one I’ve ever heard anyone rave about.

This leaves me with the assurance that there is still a certain “magic” to the art of writing.  No matter how much you meet the criteria of good technique, careful plotting, and lovely language, there is still something indefinable about a really good novel that makes you say “I love this book,” that makes you never want it to end.

Cynthia Coe is the author of several nonfiction books and the author of the upcoming novel, Runaway Kitty.  Her blogs are www.sycamorecove.org and www.spiritualearthed.org . Her author page on Amazon.com is: http://amzn.to/2d0TV2g