#WIPMADNESS WEEK #3 – Basics of the Craft

Welcome back for our Week #3 check-in, Wipsters.

“I’ve had a story rattling around in my head for years, waiting to be told. Maybe it’s time I wrote it.”

Hey, does anyone around here know who won this week’s draw?

If you’ve been a writer for very long, you’ve likely encountered similar comments. Whether you’re having lunch in the cafeteria at work, chatting over coffee after a club meeting, or making small talk with another parent in the bleachers at hockey practice, if you mention you’re a novelist your words may unbind the dreams of a wannabee writer. Suddenly a lot of gut-spilling happens. I think it’s a little like unburdening to a hairdresser or bartender!

After the above statement was made we chatted a bit about her ambition. I always like to encourage anyone who feels the pull to write, but it was soon obvious that she would benefit from doing some groundwork on the craft of writing before she began putting any words on paper.

C’mon, tell us who won, will ya?

“What genre will it be?” When she raised her eyebrows over a look filled with confusion, I added, “What kind of story?”

“Oh, it’ll be a fiction novel.”

Near the end of that conversation she asked if I could recommend a book that would tell her everything she needed to know. She wanted a magic formula. Not wanting to either discourage or overwhelm her, I offered to lend her something from my bookshelves that would give her an overview of novel-writing basics. After that I suggested she write a complete first draft of the story before reading anything more and perhaps getting tangled up (or bogged down) with too many mechanics.

The draw! The draw! You’re getting me all in a flap! Who won the draw???

Of the over fifty craft books on my shelf, I didn’t choose the first book I had read, which was TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER by Dwight Swain (1965). Instead I chose to lend her WRITING A NOVEL AND GETTING PUBLISHED by Nigel Watts (1996, NTC Publishing Group), not because I thought it was the most comprehensive guidebook, but because it’s short, simple and straightforward… and not too scary for a very new and naïve writer.

This is where I ask YOU what book you would have recommended in that situation. Not the book you value now as an experienced writer and/or published author, but the one book you wish someone had given you before you began your first manuscript.


Now… before we start getting tweeted to bits, I suppose I need to satisfy all the birdie curiosity and announce the winner of last week’s draw for a review by Jessica Morrell of a synopsis (or query) and the first five pages of a manuscript.

Kiperoo – Kip Wilson Rechea

Congratulations, Kip! Please contact me at caroljgarvin [at] gmail [dot] com with your e-mail address and I’ll give you the scoop on claiming your critique from Jessica.

Now, for next week… since we’re talking about craft books today, one person commenting before next weekend on today’s post will win a $25 Amazon gift certificate to use towards the purchase of a book of your choice.

We’ve hit the mid-point of the month, so have you all made it half-way to the goal(s) you set for July? There’s still time if you boot into high gear. Go, go, go!!! (But don’t forget to leave a comment before you depart — or several. Every comment gets a separate entry in the draw.)


Ah, drat! It wasn’t me.

~  ~  ~


43 thoughts on “#WIPMADNESS WEEK #3 – Basics of the Craft

  1. Carol … another great post. I’ve been absent so missed some of your “fun” … nevertheless … I would recommend Stephen King On Writing … a very interesting, soft touch … a combo writing book and memoir about his journey to publication and just plain practical 🙂

    • Carol says:

      Thanks, Florence. We’re glad to have your suggestion. I’m going to compile a list of everyone’s recommended books later in the week.

  2. L.S. Taylor says:

    I’ll second On Writing. It certainly wasn’t the first writing book I read, but it’s the only one I’ve ever finished quickly. Very accessible.

    I’ve kept plugging away at revisions, and I now have just four scenes that need my attention. I’m looking forward to finishing this soon. It’s been too long already. 🙂

  3. I guess I’m different in that I would recommend either an on-line writing class through a professional place like RWA( love their classes) or a class at an extension program like UCI. I’ve done this to people who live close to me and want to write that ‘novel’. Mostly though I give them the websites of a professional writing group that fits with the book they want to write. Like you though most of them say they want to write a fiction book and aren’t familiar with genre. I just had someone who told me the premise of his story and we decided it was more YA. Another one it was more romance so I gave them the RWA website.

    **I still get people that ‘ask’ if I’ll read their novel and comment but I tell them I don’t do this. Most accept that.

    On the books I loved Stephen King’s writing book and also THE STORY.

    My writing mentor from UCI writing program recommended the TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER by Dwight Swain (1965) in our writing class. I still use it.

    • Carol says:

      A writing class would certainly be a good direction for any beginning writer. Unfortunately, this particular woman wasn’t really interested in doing much preliminary work, so just getting her to admit she needed to read something was an accomplishment.

      You touch on something that can be very difficult… requests to read/critique a first novel. We were all beginning writers at one time, and probably remember how rough our early writing was. A mentor or critique buddy would have been invaluable, altho’ too much honesty at that point might have been devastating.

      Those who are published have a legitimate reason to decline. Between your own writing-to-deadline and book promotion time is at a premium. Because I’m not a published novelist yet my response has been to suggest I’m not the person to ask. That’s where I offer information about a writing class or critique group.

  4. My own goals this week include going back to my revision and working on getting it ready to go out to Betas in the Fall. I hope to get some motivation with RWA Nationals next weekend especially since this novel does have more intense romance going on in it. It’s also moving more towards a crossover novel too. I just want to write it and then later decide if it’s still YA or not.

    • Carol says:

      Happy revising, Kim, and enjoy the conference. I’m registered for the Surrey Int’l Writers’ Conference here in Canada in October. There’s nothing like the conference experience for motivation! 🙂

  5. L.S. Taylor says:

    Taking inspiration from Kim, I’m actually going to add another thing: online writing communities and blogs. There are so many great ones, like the Compuserve forums one (lots of people who go to SIWC hang out there) and Magical Words for the spec fic writer. There are other communities, too, but those ones matter. Getting a chance to chat and be around other writers is vital, and you often get a chance to learn things, too.

    • Carol says:

      I agree! The writing community is an invaluable resource. I follow the Compuserve Books & Writers forum myself (there’s a link in the sidebar), as well as far too many blogs.

  6. kiperoo says:

    OMGOMGOMG, I won the critique! *dies* I absolutely loved Jessica’s book THANKS, BUT THIS ISN’T FOR US, so I didn’t dare dream that I would win. That btw, is an excellent book I’d recommend to anyone starting to query.

    But as far as a basic first book for a new writer, it is a little harder to pick. You’ve all listed some good ones already, and I second Kim’s idea to point them to a basic class to get a good idea of the big picture, and to websites like Verla Kay’s to get an idea of all that’s involved.

    One book I do recommend to people at all stages of writing is READING LIKE A WRITER by Francine Prose. I love Francine Prose’s fiction, and I love how she stresses the importance of reading well before (and while) thinking of writing.

    Thank you again so much for hosting this month and for such a wonderful prize!

    • Carol says:

      LOL! Love your reaction, Kip! I’m glad this prize went to someone who really appreciates it (not that all of us wouldn’t!). And thanks for adding to our list of book suggestions.

    • Shari Green says:

      Kip, I love Jessica’s book BETWEEN THE LINES — one of the most helpful books on craft! But I didn’t know about THANKS, BUT…! I’ll definitely have to look for that one!

  7. That’s all great advice! I still love Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I think about it often when I write.

    I’m really pleased with my progress. Even with launch week, I got immersed back into a revision and it is going swimmingly. I’m also putting up my first self-published work (a companion set of stories to go with Never Enough) but the learning curve for getting it all formatted and ready has been steep. The plan is to get those out by August 1st, so I’ll be spreading myself thin until then!

  8. baccelliak says:

    Loved Donald Maass’ book. I was lucky enough to go to his Writing the Breakout Novel workshop a few years back. I got him to sign my book too.

  9. baccelliak says:

    Also #YALITCHAT is another great site to go to as is Verla Kay’s Blue Board.

    • Carol says:

      Writing the Breakout Novel is a fabulous book, altho’ maybe a little over my friend’s head as her first introduction to what’s involved in writing a book. If she persists, though, I’d definitely recommend it to her.

      Although she isn’t writing YA or children’s books, there would still be useful info on Verla Kay’s sites. The Blue Board has a great first “sticky” post by Shirley, called “Starting Out”, every new writer should read.

  10. girlparker says:

    I vote “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass as well. Currently, I’m reading his “Fire in Fiction” and love it. Also, “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. Goals for the week: Write every day. Pushing through a massive case of block. Ugh.

    • Carol says:

      Sorry to hear about your writing block, but love your determination to write every day anyway. Sometimes that’s the only way to get around it. I find switching projects can help, too… as long as it doesn’t let me procrastinate permanently on the other.

  11. Okay. I’m going to offer a HUGELY different opinion. Though I love all of those writing craft books and devoured them eagerly, I am very glad I didn’t read any of them until after I’d drafted my first novels. Why? Because they would have killed both my joy and my confidence. Drafting my first novels with no knowledge of how to write gave me an incredible freedom. BLISS. I’ve always been a book addict and I wrote purely on instinct, rather than knowledge of the craft. And I have no regrets.

    With that said, I’m VERY grateful that I read all those books before I started revising and sending those manuscripts out. ^_^

    Speaking of which, my humorous MG is now in the capable hands of my agent. Hoping she’ll love it. In the meantime, I’m occupying myself again with Occupied Paris. What a strange transition. Taking it slowly, since I have a million other things on my mind right now. RE: MOVING!

    BTW, if you haven’t hopped over to my blog to read the Denise Jaden interview and a chance to read NEVER ENOUGH, I suggest you do that–pronto! ^_^

    Have a great week, Wipsters!

    • Make that Chance to WIN Denise’s NEVER ENOUGH. I’m sure you’ll all get the chance to read it. ^_^

      • Carol says:

        Already have a copy (in fact, two!!) of Denise’s new book! I enjoyed attending her very successful launch on Saturday.

        It’s interesting to hear you suggest writing the first book before studying the craft. I did the same thing (although I had a mentor who patiently answered questions), but that first draft was such a mess it was unredeemable. I revised and rewrote it several times before finally abandoning it. But you’re right… telling that story without the inhibitions of rules is probably what hooked me on writing fiction. But I still wished I’d had a vague idea about what I was getting into before I started… something that suggested I would need at least a beginning, middle and end. LOL!

        With a move coming up you’ll have lots to keep you busy over the summer. Glad to hear you’re working on Occupied Paris, too.

    • I felt the same way about those writing magazines. At first I couldn’t get enough of them. Then? Those same magazines just ended up collecting dust. Though I did end up taking a couple writing classes through Writer’s Digest.

  12. bethanyrsmith says:

    I’d recommend Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, because in my opinion, for a new writer, finishing is the hardest thing.

    My goals are coming along nicely. Not without some hair-pulling, mind you, but I’m making progress so on the whole I’d call it a win 🙂

    • Carol says:

      I agree, Bethany, finishing a novel is definitely a big hurdle for new writers.

      Glad you’re making progress with your goals. Just don’t pull out too much of that hair!! 😉

  13. Writing the Breakout Novel is a good one! I loved Orson Scott Card’s Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy too, if you do that genre.

    I’ve been doing really well with my wordcount lately–around 2500-3500 words a day on average, I think, though Saturday got busy with babysitting and I only pulled in maybe 500.

    Thanks for hosting, much luck to all the wipsters!

    • Love Orson Scott Card. I did apply to be one of his authors at his boot camp but didn’t make it. Though I do have to say this about him, each time I’ve emailed me for his opinion on certain things like my writing, he’s written back.

    • Carol says:

      What great daily word counts you’ve been achieving! That’s some serious butt-in-chair time!! Good for you!

      I’m not familiar with Card’s book, but that’s probably because Sci Fi and Fantasy aren’t my genre. It’s good to have your recommendation to add to the list.

  14. One of my favorites is a little gem called IF YOU WANT TO WRITE: A BOOK ABOUT ART, INDEPENDENCE, AND SPIRIT by Brenda Ueland. I also found an audio copy of King’s On Writing – that is an excellent way to “read” his book because he is the narrator!

    I’m having a good writing month on a lot of levels. Which is nice because my days are numbered for true productivity. I’m teaching kids camps now and school starts as soon as I’m done and my writing will once again be relegated to the 45 min-1hr I can squeeze in during the early a.m. hours.

    See you all on Twitter!

    • Carol says:

      Thanks for those suggested titles! It’s good to hear your month is going well, too. I don’t think too many of us are looking forward to the return of post-summer schedules. I refuse to think of it yet… I still have some vacation time coming.

  15. Leigh-Ann says:

    Nearly forgot to check in today! (Thanks for the Twitter reminder, JRo!) I wish I’d had WRITING MAGIC by Gail Carson Levine when I was a youngster who wrote a lot, but didn’t yet consider herself a “writer.” I wish I’d had more guidance in that area at a younger age.

    I’m still working on carving out more writing time for myself and revising some of the 1st chapters of my WIP for my workshop group, so still plugging away. Hope everyone else is having a good month!

    • Carol says:

      So many people mention writing as a child. It reinforces the importance of supporting young writers and programs for them.

      Glad you’ve continued to find the time for your writing and revising this week. Happy plugging. 🙂

  16. joylene says:

    I loved Breakout Novel by Donald Maass too, and I didn’t read it until I’d written 5 books. It’s definitely rejuvenated my writing. Great post, Carol.

    • Carol says:

      Thanks, Joylene. I’m thinking I should re-read that one before October when I’ll be taking a workshop of his, although I still have his Fire in Fiction on my stack waiting for time to really concentrate on its reading.

  17. Add me to the ON WRITING pile. I can’t believe I totally missed last week’s check-in. Believe it or not, after 15 years with kids, we finally took are first real family vacation, so there was no #wipmadness last week. But oh the vacation madness! It was heavenly!

    Now I am trying to get myself back in gear to get this WIP revised and ready to send out into the world. I hope I haven’t totally lost it…

  18. No, I believe you Mary Ann. It took us seven years to go on another family vacation. While in Mexico I didn’t write at all. Sometimes you have to do that!
    You can do it with your WIP. I’m trying to go through my own revisions right now. So I know what you’re talking about.

  19. Shari Green says:

    Very late to check in this week — just got back today from a week camping. Just me, Son3, our dog, our tent, and a big stack of books. Heaven! I definitely made good progress toward my “catch up on reading” July goal (5 and a bit books read, plus 2 did-not-finish ones). And I made some progress on the writing goal, too — wrote many pages of notes for my WIP.

    Re: writing books for newbies — early on in my writing life, I read WRITING DOWN THE BONES, by Natalie Goldberg. Don’t remember too much about it now, other than that I found it inspiring and encouraging. I really love ON WRITING and BIRD BY BIRD, but I didn’t read those until after I’d written my first novel. Maybe THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WRITING FICTION, by Barnaby Conrad. Seems to me it was a pretty good look at the basics.

    I do have some favourite craft books — WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL (Maass), BETWEEN THE LINES (Morrell), PLOT & STRUCTURE (Bell) — but I probably wouldn’t recommend those until someone’s dabbled a bit with writing already. Oh! and I recently read THE FOREST FOR THE TREES (Betsy Lerner), which was SO good, and Natalie Goldberg’s WILD MIND–also excellent! Okay, that’s enough…lol.

    • Carol says:

      So glad you had a wonderful holiday, and holy smokes!!! you really did get lots of reading done!

      Thanks for adding to our list of recommended books. Natalie Goldberg’s is a good suggestion. I read it early, too, and found it inspiring. At the beginning we need books that encourage and motivate as well as those that instruct.

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