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Books on Writing: my well-thumbed half-dozen

29/08/2010 4 comments
I have a full shelf of Books on Writing and still buying. I had a few goes at making this selection, ended up with ten books, then had another go to get it down to the half-dozen I’m allowing myself. Along the way the criterion I used was this: which books have I reached across for most often from the typewriter and then spattered pencil-marks and underlines on page after page? This is it then; my selection of my half-dozen favourite books on writing.

 

 Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande. Hard to believe this book was first published in 1934, such is its freshness. Brande believes ‘that becoming a writer is mainly a matter of cultivating a writer’s temperament’. She steps the reader through practical ways to build such a temperament.

Writing Short Stories, Alisa Cox. Not a rigid ‘this is the way to do it’, this book is about spinning a yarn in many different ways and the theme running through of the relationship between the cinema and the short story is fascinating.

How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N Frey. The sub-title to this book tells it all: ‘A Step-by-stp no nonsense guide to dramatic storytelling’. Even if you’ve no interest in doing that novel, you will get great tips on producing  dynamic prose. In summary, he says, ‘your prose should have time, color, textural density, convey a sense of motion, appeal to the senses…’

Writing Creative Nonfiction, eds Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard. This book works by having a section on the art and craft of creative nonfiction and its various sub-genres followed by a selection of excerpts from a wide variety of contemporary writers. And the hairy chestnut of truthfulness in the genre is well covered.

The Making of a Poem by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland. If you’ve ever wrestled with poetic form in writing or reading poems, this book makes it all so simple. The approach is to take the form (Villanelle, Sestina, Ballad …..) and summarise it in a few bullet points, give a short bit of history and then show the form being used by contemporary poets.

Writing for Success, Patricia O’Reilly.  A no-nonsense gallop through pages of practical advice on the publishing process across the spectrum of fiction, non-fiction, radio and print journalism. A great resource book to have to hand.

That’s my list then. I’ll pile all these books back on the shelf now and then get on with it – the writing, that is.

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Old Words Made New: Dorothea Brande’s Classic on Writing & Creativity

12/07/2010 Comments off

I’ve been re-reading Dorothea Brande’s book , On Becoming a Writer. Hard to believe the Chicago woman was born in 1893  and published her classic on writing and creativity in 1934. It’s an easy read and you could almost get through it at one sitting.

What makes the book refreshing is that it’s not about the nuts and bolts and techniques of writing but more about the temperament and attitude of the would-be writer or, as John Gardener says in his introduction: ‘This book is all about the writer’s magic.’

I first read this book about five years ago and can see that I have most underlines in the Chapter ‘Learning to see again’.  Brande recommends that, for a half an hour each day, we transport ourselves back to the  state of the wide-eyed innocence that was ours at the age of five or so. She calls this ‘the experience of fresh seeing’, like turning yourself into a stranger in your own street so that you are seeing and hearing everything through fresh eyes.

But it’s not just the fresh seeing that is important for Brande, it’s letting the unconscious work its magic on this material through assimilation and accretion, allowing it in its own time to feed into one’s writing. She believes that the unconscious is the home of shape and form and can see types and patterns that the intellect misses.

So today I’ll practice ‘fresh seeing’ and start with the fierce magpies in the chestnut tree in my back garden and the blackbirds that I know will be doing their best to steal what’s left of the loganberry crop.

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