I’ve been writing for a very long time. I remember first creating stories just for fun when I was in the fourth grade. They were relatively simple, considering, but I did them because I loved it. Then, in middle school there were some other writing projects I did and I looked into doing more in-depth work with creative writing. Finally, in high school, I ended up spending my winter break in my older sister’s basement using her computer to write the story of Sedrick the Squire seeking to become a knight. His best friend Michael went on this journey with him and at the castle, they met Celasta, who was disguised as Charles, and seeking to enter knighthood as well to escape an arranged marriage. That was fun.
I never meant for these stories to go anywhere beyond my own circle of friends and family, though when I later wrote a sequel to Sedrick’s story where he learned of his true parentage, I showed them both to my Language Arts teacher for her opinion. She really liked them and it was through her encouragement that I continued looking for ways to write stories — better ones.
If you’ve read my Introduction page on here, you’ve seen me talk about how I spent several years writing online in message board forums for role-play and participating in chat room interactive game/storytelling. It was during those years that I really started to think about writing a book and being an author, beyond just the casual daydreams I had when I would type a short story or scribble down an idea or outline for a novella.
When I finally decided to stop hemming and hawing about writing a book and really work on getting it done, I dove into it… and was quickly overwhelmed. Nothing seemed to really be working right.
I’m a perfectionist at heart and I am meticulous when focusing on projects. My writing was good, but it was waaaay below the standard I saw in other books being written by my favorite authors. I have strengths, but I also have weaknesses, and weaknesses are bad for perfectionists to face. So, I decided to work on educating myself about how a book should be written, what sort of things go into putting a work of this magnitude together, and how I could best accomplish that while still maintaining a sliver of my sanity.
Writing a book is a very self-focused process and requires a lot of discipline and self-awareness. It requires the ability to look at yourself and your work with as much honesty as you can. Sure, there are times when I feel like I’m writing crap, and sometimes I feel like I’m going to make a million dollars from my book, but at the end of the day, I have to look and see where I actually see weaknesses and strengths and work on smoothing out the problems.
I bought books on writing to learn from. I didn’t buy them all at once, but over the year or so that I’ve seriously put in an actual daily effort on a schedule for writing, I’ve been spacing out some of my time between writing and some of my time studying.
This is my library of writing reference books so far.
I include the Scrivener for Dummies because I am using the Scrivener program to write my novel, and most of my blog posts now as well, and there are so many features that it requires me to study the program in depth to feel like I’m really gaining maximum benefit from it. I love Scrivener so far and I’ll love it even more once I know everything about it.
The first book I got was technically the blue notebook, wherein I started a story bible that I used to map out my world, characters, outline, and other relevant details to this novel project. The sticker on its cover was a later addition to help remind me to find peace and not stress myself out too much, which I’m very prone to doing.
The first reference book I purchased was Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb. I was interested in this book because it is an overview filled with great advice and suggestions, examples, and references for further study and resources — the listings for additional books and websites at the end of each chapter is fantastic. I was also intrigued by the book being written by an agent as well as an author. It’s my intention to work through traditional publishing when my book is finished, which means securing a publishing contract through a publisher and getting an agent to represent me. Because that’s a key focus of mine, I wanted to know what agents look for and what they expect.
Next I bought How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. I enjoy Card’s work and he’s proven to be very successful, so when considering where to look for educational materials, I went to his work right away. I do like what he puts in here, but I will say that this book is aimed more towards sci-fi authors than fantasy authors. That’s not terrible, because a lot in the two genres is interchangeable in terms of what you can do and create, but you have to do some mental gymnastics to find ways to apply some of the more sci-fi elements of this book to fantasy if that’s the genre you’re going for, like me.
Then, back to the focus on what agents will be looking for, I got The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass. I was first introduced to Donald Maass through podcasts and YouTube videos where he was speaking. Later I found out that his agency represents one of my favorite authors, like Jim Butcher (author of The Dresden Files). This book is wonderful. He gives multiple examples of what he is looking for and talking about, and between the sections he gives exercises to practice honing these skills and techniques for yourself.
I got The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference next and have really enjoyed it. I’m a researcher at heart and I found myself spending copious amounts of precious time analyzing and researching things I thought were important. I still do that because I still think it’s important, but with this book I now have smaller sections at hand that I can flip to if I need to know how a castle is built or what certain ranks different people in nobility held instead of stopping and spending time looking for it online. Additionally, it’s just a really fun book to flip through and read.
I also recommend 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. I didn’t get as much out of this book as others might, but that’s probably because I’ve really had my characters in this novel banging around in my brain for the better part of ten years or more. If you’re looking for insight on creating really deep, rounded characters then I recommend this book for you. I’m glad to have this and I know I’ll end up visiting it again for my next project.
Finally, I come to Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin. You should read everything by her. Seriously. But the best things to be found in this book are the ways to make your prose really sparkle. She breaks down sentence structure, voice, tense, and even the way that different words sound in ways to choose the best construction for your work. It’s full of amazing exercises and this book works really well for writing groups because it was originally her notes from lectures she gave on the craft of writing. If you get this book you will truly be learning from a master.
I have read through all of these books except for the Scrivener book and LeGuin’s book– I’m still working on those. I work with them by taking notes, practicing the exercises, and trying not to bog myself down too much when I switch my brain over to author mode and work on my novel. Most of these books I know I will revisit at later stages, looking for how to revise and edit and make necessary changes.
A huge part of writing a novel that you intend to publish is knowing what standards to set for yourself — these books are excellent for that.