Resource Review: “The Kick-Ass Writer” by Chuck Wendig

Resource Review: “The Kick-Ass Writer” by Chuck Wendig

Full Title: The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, & Earn Your Audience

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Author: Chuck Wendig

Published: November 2014 by Writer’s Digest Books

Genres: Nonfiction, Writing Skills, Authorship, Creative Writing & Composition

Edition Details: 282 pages, trade paperback

Source: {Purchased – Used}

Rating: {3.5/5 stars}

First Glance

I’d seen Pinterest pins of various quotes from this book, particularly during the NaNoWriMo season. Considering his mouth (foul words and verbal slaps in the face), I knew I’d likely be both amused and annoyed with Wendig’s style.

Positive Bits

I love lists! A list forces a writer to be concise and to really make sense of their thoughts. Listmaking is one of my favorite writing tools, both for vague story outlines and for stretching my creative writing muscles.

Between the jokes and silly metaphors, Wendig built a legitimate collection of writing tips I think any author could benefit from. Actually, I love the fact that the book’s lists make quoting Wendig’s points so easy! After all, every statement is numbered.

Wendig’s voice is approachable. There is no master-student dynamic in this book. Instead, he gives you that smartass friend who’s telling you all about his opinions. If nonfiction usually bores you to tears, it’s likely due to a teacher’s tone being used throughout the text. Some people just learn better from peers.

Less Enjoyable Bits

One list is fun. A dozen lists can still be entertaining. But 282 pages of lists? I’m sure it made writing the book itself much easier, but lists with the exact same format can get a bit mind-numbing.

Wendig ended up with a lot of repetition and contradiction between his lists. For example, he discussed how a plot generally needs a beginning, middle, and end on a list only to repeat that point again on another list a few pages later (maybe with a new joke). At the same time, he’d mention how you have to know how the story ends, except that you don’t have to know until you get there, but be sure to write the ending first, unless you don’t. It was a little frustrating.

I think that Wendig’s humor is best ingested in small amounts, like rich chocolate cake. Too much, and you just get sick of it. To be fair, though, I expected to end up feeling this way by the end of the book; I follow his blog, so I’m well aware of his voice and how I react to it.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Stop Running Away: Right here is your story. Your manuscript. Your career. So why are you running in the other direction? Your writing will never chase you – you need to chase your writing. If it’s what you want, pursue it.

{page 53}

Stories Have Power: Outside the air we breathe and the blood in our bodies, the one thing that connects us modern humans today with the shamans and emperors and serfs and alien astronauts of our past is a heritage – a lineage – of stories. Stories move the world at the same time they explain our place in it. They help us understand ourselves and those near to us. Never treat a story as a shallow, wan little thing. A good story is as powerful as the bullet fired from an assassin’s gun. {page 21}

[On why you write]

You do it because you love it.

You do it because you want to be read.

You tell stories because you’re a storyteller. And because stories matter. {page 277}

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – but check out his blog terribleminds first to get a taste of his style. I’m not sure I’d purchase this book full price, but seeing it on a used shelf for a few bucks? Sure. To each their own preferences.

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Resource Review: “Breathing In, Breathing Out” by Ralph Fletcher

Full Title: Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook

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Author: Ralph Fletcher

Published: November 18, 1996 by Heinemann

Genres: Nonfiction, Reference, Studying, Language & Grammar

Edition Details: 112 pages, trade paperback

Source: Purchased – Used

Rating: {3/5 stars}

First Glance

Approaching this book, I made special concessions to its age. Written in 1996, this book was guaranteed to use a different style and voice than modern writing guides; after all, it’s over two decades old!

That said, it surprised me that the book is labeled for ages 5-17 on Amazon. Skimming through the pages, I wouldn’t think of it being aimed any earlier than middle or high school. Maybe a teacher could translate it for easier use?

Positive Bits

As someone who uses a digital journal (outside of this blog) to ramble on and on, Fletcher’s ideas about how to develop a writer’s notebook validate my own practices. It’s one thing to know a process works for you; it’s another to have someone else give you multiple examples of famous authors who do the same process for the same reasons.

I’ve always had a hard time at conceptualizing a writer’s notebook as a whole. I have Pinterest boards with writing quotes and story prompts, but they’re separate from my Google Drive folder of story ideas and scene snippets. While I prefer a digitized “notebook”, Fletcher’s explanations and examples left me intrigued enough to consider switching (at least in part) to a physical notebook.

The sections break the idea of a writer’s notebook into manageable pieces. I appreciate how often he reminds us to play with words until they come naturally, especially in the beginning.

Fletcher’s personal samples of older writings are painful… and yet painfully familiar! We all stumble through writing while we find our voice. One of the challenges (and joys) of looking at our older writings is finding the recyclable ideas among the rubbish.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I didn’t connect to Fletcher’s voice. From the start, I struggled to make myself read more than a handful of pages at a time. For such a short book, it took me two (2!) whole months to finally get to the end.

Fletcher is clearly a poet. We often get caught up in metaphors and imagery when it’s less than helpful. I feel like many of his chapters were weighed down by odd amounts of poetic prose and awkward word choice.

He turned me off when he started complaining about writing prompts and those who swear by them. It felt too much like writer’s elitism, like he’s just too good for such trivial writing exercises. (To be fair, Fletcher moved past that later in the same section, but the impression lingered.)

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Writing puts you in a state of ‘constant composition,’ and this is particularly true of writing in a notebook. Regular notebook writing acts as a wakeup call, a daily reminder to keep all your senses alert. This starts a cycle that reinforces itself. Writing down small details gets you in the habit of seeking out the important small things in your world. These details in turn often lead you to new material you never knew you had. {page 19}

It’s not that I try to write badly in my notebook. But I know I will be doing exactly that, just like countless other writers before me. If you read the notebooks of famous writers you’ll find some wonderful writing, sure enough, but you’ll also find pages and pages of stuff that is surprisingly boring and tedious. In a strange sort of way I find this comforting and even inspiring. {page 56}

The notebook is the place to take care of the writer inside you. To keep the writing flame lit amid the winds of indifference. This is important because nobody else will care about your writing as much as you. {page 84}

Is it worth the coin?

No – at least not at the prices I’ve seen online. The list price is $25, but even the cheaper (used) options are about $6 after shipping. I bought this book used on a dollar book day at our local Half Price Books, so it was probably worth the buck.

Resource Review: “No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit” by Chris Baty

Resource Review: “No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit” by Chris Baty

Full Title: No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit: A Treasure Chest of Tools, Tips, and Righteous Gear to Help You Bash Out a Novel in a Month

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Author: Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month

Published: September 2006 by Chronicle Books

Genres: Nonfiction, Writing & Books, Authorship, Writing Skills, Writing Fiction

Edition Details: 48 pages, trade paperback – kit also includes a calendar, daily inspiration cards, coupons and peptalk letters, and the Radiant Badge of the Triumphant Wordsmith

Source: {Purchased – New}

Rating: {5/5 stars}

First Glance

I know I reviewed the original NaNoWriMo book, but I happened to get this kit on clearance at Barnes & Noble somewhere along the way as well. I’ll be brief, as there are few thoughts about this kit that don’t align with my review of the 2004 book.

Positive Bits

Humor is still Baty’s key approach, and it fit well with the pacing of this smaller kit’s book. The activities mentioned as similar to those in the core book, but this kit focuses on the basic details and leaves the actual accomplishment of each activity up to the writer.

I enjoyed the titles and descriptions of people who you might invite to join you. Instead of just suggesting family and friends, Baty takes the time to explain archetypes for each kind of person. A fellow writer. A challenge taker. A book group(ie).

Less Enjoyable Bits

Honestly, there’s a clear echo. The mini book in this kit would easily take the place of purchasing the full No Plot? No Problem! if you were choosing between A or B. You’re losing the history of NaNoWriMo and some depth to the exercises offered, but the basic explanation and guidance for writing a novel in a month are still present.

However, this kit really is the bare bones of NaNoWriMo guidance. It’s good… but not very different from just reading bits and pieces of the peptalk emails you get from NaNoWriMo’s website during November.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The Radiant Badge of the Triumphant Wordsmith {throughout}

[I just really love the over-the-top name!]

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I think the kit has been on the clearance shelves of Barnes & Noble for the past year or so. But even at full price, this kit is just playful enough to get you going on your NaNoWriMo adventure. Also, there’s just something extra enjoyable about using a kit rather than just referencing a book.

Resource Review: “No Plot? No Problem!” by Chris Baty

Full Title: No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days

baty

Author: Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month

Published: September 2004 by Chronicle Books (apparently I got a used first edition)

Genres: Nonfiction, Writing &  Books, Authorship, Writing Skills, Writing Fiction

Edition Details: 176 pages, trade paperback

Source: {Purchased – Used}

Rating: {4.5/5 stars}

First Glance

Let’s be real. As someone who’s participated in NaNoWriMo for years, I was destined to enjoy this book. My only first glance impression was that my edition might be quite different from whatever’s being sold now (14 years later). Actually, my wife’s joked about buying me the newest 2014 expanded edition just so I can compare the two!

Positive Bits

Humor is often hit and miss. Baty found a good balance, I think, in using generalized jokes and dorky humor throughout the book, all without crossing the line into anything questionable (i.e. sexist, racist, ageist, etc.).

One activity I loved the idea of is the Magna Carta (and Magna Carta II). The short version is that you make a list of things you love in a story (I) and things you can’t stand (II). Those lists then serve as a guide when you feel a bit listless or lost in your plot. I’ve done this activity before (calling it “reader research”), and I think it’s a marvelous way to really discover both preferences and skills.

The language of this book (and concepts presented) never aim over the head of anyone who can read a chapter book. I think a middle schooler could get just as much use and enjoyment out of this book as their grandparent. Baty’s voice is conversational enough to make reading each chapter feel like a chat over coffee (or cocoa).

Less Enjoyable Bits

Every single time Baty directs the reader to take full advantage of company supplies or time, I cringe. Maybe that worked a decade ago, but many companies now record all emails sent and received (for legal reasons). Personal documents aren’t actually personal. So aside from the questionable ethics of not working at work, you have the reality that today’s companies will be far less naive about your digital activities (and printing). That said, a wireless keyboard and a smartphone can lend more honest opportunities to write on breaks and lunch (while avoiding company resources and time).

This book doesn’t include a lot of suggestions on your process itself. It covers the basics of your word count, your timeline, and then a weekly breakdown of how (he assumes) you’ll feel as the event goes forward. Small stories and side notes from previous NaNoWriMo participants help mediate this absence, but it still left me a little disappointed.

Baty wrote for non-writers. His pep talks and advice are ideal for them… and less useful for the rest of us. I think writers need a different approach, largely because we have a familiarity with the process that also makes us more nervous about success versus failure.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. it’s the lack of a deadline. Give someone an enormous task, a supportive community, and a friendly-yet-firm due date, and miracles will happen. {page 14}

The things that you appreciate as a reader are also the things you’ll likely excel at as a writer. {page 86}

[Talking about people playing sports or videos games for fun on weekends, not to become famous]

They do it because the challenge of the game simply feels good.  They do it because they like to compete, because they like spending time with friends, because it feels really, really nice to just lose themselves in the visceral pleasure of an activity. Novel-writing is just a recreational sport where you don’t have to get up out of your chair. {page 172}

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I’d even buy this book at full price, and I rarely do that with any book. While I didn’t get as much active assistance from this book as I’d hoped, the history of NaNoWriMo and its bare bones fascinated me.

Book Reviews – in the works

I’m becoming an expert at disappearing for months at a time. Sorry! Consider this an update on my projects, writing goals, and life stuff.

Life Stuff

Last year, I became unemployed in August and spent a month trying to figure out what to do with my life once a terrible retail job was no longer in the picture.

As a result, I poked my nose into Booktube, put together another poetry book, and found a job I enjoyed doing. Working an office job with salary (and amazing benefits) has removed so much stress from my life… and that’s directly evident in my projects and goals since last summer.

To be fair, I disappeared after October… because I started that new job in October. Not a big surprise. I quietly participated in NaNoWriMo 2017 and continued on other writing projects, but I guess I just gave myself some time to adjust to a bazillion changes all at once.

Writing Goals

Since publishing my last poetry book, I’ve been taking a more serious look at my fiction and nonfiction writing projects from previous years. I’m finally in a good place to focus on rewrites and editing and all that other “fun” stuff.

I intend to publish another poetry book by the end of 2018, but other than that, I’m letting a bunch of ideas percolate in the background.

Projects

Aside from writing, I’ve made a focused effort to read through more books we own. I’m writing detailed book reviews for some nonfiction books (mostly books about writing books), and I’ll be sharing those soon. Pinky promise!

Resource reviews are important to me, because some people (like me) can’t stand the idea of investing money in nonfiction books unless they know the book is really worth the coin. Most of mine are used books, but I figure an honest opinion can help others who might be considering a $20 purchase.

 

Life – a work in progress

I know, I know.

I said I was joining BookTube, and then I disappeared. The truth is… life happened, in a good way, and I had to choose which projects where most important to me. As a writer, that meant taking a new opportunity to work on my catalog of works, even though it took up more of my free time than intended.

To be fair, I also started a new job after a brief stint as an unemployed person (ugh) and found myself included in socialization opportunities with friends (YAY). As a firm believer in seeking my own comfort and happiness as a form of self-care, I chose to focus on my writing with the bits of spare time I have. For me, that means I’m reading less and writing more… which isn’t bad, per se, but it doesn’t help with creating BookTube videos.

I still intend to participate in BookTube here and there, because it’s a wonderful community. But much of what I’m working on right now is offline.

This month, I’m releasing Dandelion Girls and Other Mythical Creatures, a poetry collection full of mythology and modern life mixed together. I’ll be sharing bits and pieces from the book as the days go by; consider them teasers, luring you in until you decide to buy a copy of the entire book.

Get the Ball Rolling!

So… I finally did it. I made a rambling BookTube intro video and posted it online. AAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!

Honestly, I found myself making excuse after excuse as to why I hadn’t started my channel yet. Oh, I need to finish updating my profiles on various websites. Oh, wait, I need to dust and reorganize the shelves. Oh, I should make sure I have the perfect lighting and recording setup before I start. Oh, I can’t post anything until I have a good editor to work with.

Nope.

I’m done with excuses. Period.

I still have SO MANY THINGS I want/need to get done, both as a book reviewer and a writer. It’s a bit of a jumbled mess, between my poetry project (still writing at least one new poem per day), my fanfiction, my original stories, my reading list, and now my YouTube channel. I’m not sure what will happen when, or how I’ll get any of it done. But… why not drag you along for the ride and see what happens? 

If you like my rambling and want to follow my dive into the BookTube madness, subscribe and follow me through my social media.

Writing Projects (in progress) 

I haven’t been posting my poetry for the past month or two, but I’m still writing. For 2017 I decided to make my goal a poem a day; I managed 296 poems in 2016 without a plan, so I’m sure it’s doable. 

Meanwhile, I’ve printed and started sorting the poems I have. My goal is to put together a couple of small poetry books via Amazon’s printing house, so that I can have a physical copy of the project when I’m done. Poetry is one genre I think does poorly in ebook format. 

At the same time, the scam publisher I went through for my first ever book is *finally* releasing my book from contact. Due to their pricing plans and overall crappiness, I haven’t sold any copies since publishing the book in 2009. And back then, most of the purchases were family and friends. Once the book’s free, I’ll convert it to an ebook just to keep it available. 

I’m working on editing my NaNoWriMo story from 2015, because it holds promise. I’ve found a method of reverse outlining to try, so I can find plot holes and rearrange the existing scenes. Slow and steady work, editing is. 

And of course, I’ve got this story idea that’s been percolating for months and finally refused to be ignored. I blame Tumblr. So I’ve started plotting it out, made use of my love for Pinterest by making an inspiration board too. This would be my first non-fanfic story since 2015 as well. About damn time! 

So all in all, this is me. Not sharing, but still creating. 

Persephone’s memories [poem] 

you come back to me with the first snowfall
cold and biting
my soul recognizes the need
for all the death you trail behind you
but I must’ve drank deeply of the river Lethe
because I feel like
this is the first time I’ve found you
all over again
like we haven’t harvested the fruits of love before
I call you Hades as a joke
but your smile is sad
I don’t understand why your smile is sad
but you offer me your hand
tell me I’m all yours
tell me I’m so fucking beautiful
so ripe for the picking
I remember being consumed by you
just as the first bite tears into my tender flesh
your fingers leaving behind dots of decay
until I’m nothing
swallowed by the hard soil and carrion beetles
maybe next time I’ll remember dying for you
maybe next time I’ll turn back before it’s too late

-poem by Larissa Lee

moth [poem] 

we two are the epitome of a moth to a flame
but I can’t quite tell which of us is on fire
and which is drawn to a burning end
I used to blame myself
assumed the weakness was mine
that I had tattered wings hidden on my back and
the inability to turn away from your unholy light
but I did turn away
only to find you wandering
returning to my sight
with an unexpected flutter of hurt
at my extended absence
tell me how to warn you away
all I’m good at is shining brightly
a furnace of life refusing to die out
not even to save a moth like you

-poem by Larissa Lee