Helen Cox is a UK author. She made her on-screen debut in The Krankies in 1990. Given the choice, her Mastermind topic would be Grease 2 and when someone asks her if she is a god she says 'yes.' Oh, you want to know about her books? Best click some of the links below.
Earlier this week, I was asked to recommend some books about writing. Something of a sticky subject for me. For years, I was reluctant to spend any time reading about the thing I loved more than anything else in the world.
My rationale: I could be writing. And writing is paramount.
I still believe that. Writing is paramount but I’ve finally conceded that reading about the craft of writing is important. Not so you can be told how to write by someone of the lofty, airy-fairy persuasion, mind you. But so you’re exposed to alternative viewpoints and approaches. So you can develop your own writing style from an informed perspective. And, perhaps most crucially, so you are introduced to fresh ways of practicing your craft.
Not being of the ‘lofty, airy-fairy’ persuasion myself, I gravitate towards books that are more practical in terms of content. Stephen King’s book, On Writing is most often cited as THE book to read if you want to write. I agree. And I’m sort of assuming you’ve already got that far. If not, go and read that now. You won’t regret it.
For those, like me, however who have not only read but re-read On Writing, I’ve listed my top three books on the subject of putting pen to paper.
Recommendation 1. 642 Tiny Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. I’ve only just added this book to my collection but it ‘had me at hello.’ One of the biggest challenges for writers is making time to write. This is increasingly the case in a world where you’re expected to market your books as well as pen them. Those not writing full-time, struggle to scrawl down anything amidst working a day job; helping the kids with their homework or bathing the dog after an unfortunate hound-meets-open-sewer incident.
None of that matters with this book. Each activity might take you as little as three minutes. Or, if you have more time, you can extend what you’ve written into a longer piece of writing. Tasks like: Write yesterday’s fortune cookie. It got everything wrong are designed to get the creative side of your brain whirring in a flash. Each task could be written from your own perspective or you could write it from a character’s point of view. Either way, completing one of these small exercises puts a big tick in the creative writing box for that day, even if you’re pressed for time. And on days when I manage to squeeze in three or four of these tasks alongside my other work commitments, I feel pretty smug about life I can tell you. What’s not to love about that?
Recommendation 2. Writing from the Senses by Laura Deutsch. This was the volume that convinced me creative writing books were worth dipping into. I picked it up in one of my more frivolous and open-minded moments in the shop at the New York Public Library. Contained within its pages are fifty-nine creative writing exercises that focus your pen on the five senses, adding in that all-important ‘telling detail’ creative writing teachers just love to talk about… I should know. I was one of them for about eight years.
Unlike the tasks in the first recommendation, each activity in this book will take up more of your time but it is time well-invested. A lot of writers I know are not that keen on ‘writing exercises.’ They want to just sit down and write an award-winning novel/poetry collection/one-act play. I’m not going to say ‘you can’t do that’ but that approach, to my mind, drains away the wonder of writing for writing’s sake. Not all light jogs have to lead to a marathon medal. Not all passionate kisses have to lead to sex. Sometimes there is a joy in just appreciating something beautiful in the moment, and this book is definitely a route into that when it comes to your writing. And who’s to say what will come out of this process in the long-term? Perhaps the next chapter of your award-winning novel…
Recommendation 3. The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Authors often express frustration about writing the same gestures over and over again. Particularly with longer works, it can feel as though the description of certain body-language ticks, such as smiling or eye-rolling, has become too repetitive. On the very first draft of my novel I definitely had this same concern. Whilst searching for solutions before starting my second draft, I stumbled across this book which lists likely body-language and psychological responses to some seventy-five different feelings across the emotional spectrum.
Each emotion and each reaction listed acts as a sort of springboard; prompting you to think about appropriate actions for the people you’re writing about. Would they display that particular kind of body-language? If so how would they do it (we all have our own way of smiling and so do your characters)? Would they do something else when they were feeling remorse? How might others react to that and why? If you’re stuck writing a really difficult scene in a story this book is an invaluable resource for illuminating a way forward. It’s an incredibly organised document and also helps you to think about the related emotions your character might be experiencing alongside the more obvious examples of fear, anger and joy.
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