The holiday season can be a crazy time, when it’s hard to get any writing done. But it’s not too early to think about your writing goals next year. Maybe you have a NaNoWriMo manuscript to edit and polish. Or perhaps you have other projects that could use a boost before you send them out. Consider giving yourself the gift of improved writing knowledge, so you can reach your goals for the new year!
If you need help shaping your novel, or identifying problems, consider getting a professional critique. You can find my rates and recommendations here (short version: developmental/content editing at $2 per page for a novel, $40 for a picture book).
Stacy Whitman, Editorial Director of Tu Books, provided this list of professional editors who work directly with authors. Karen Sanderson, The Word Shark, is an editor and proofreader who also has an Editor Spotlight series on her blog.
Writing books on writing is its own industry, providing many books that can give you advice on every aspect of writing.
Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer: you’ve finished a few manuscripts, read books and articles on writing, taken some classes, attended conferences. But you still struggle with plot, or suspect that your plotting needs work.
This book can help.
The Plot Outline Exercise is designed to help a writer work with a completed manuscript to identify and fix plot weaknesses. It can also be used to help flesh out an outline. Additional articles address specific plot challenges, such as getting off to a fast start, propping up a sagging middle, building to a climax, and improving your pacing. A dozen guest authors share advice from their own years of experience.
Read the book straight through, study the index to find help with your current problem, or dip in and out randomly — however you use this book, you’ll find fascinating insights and detailed tips to help you build a stronger plot and become a better writer.
"This really is helping me a lot. It’s written beautifully and to-the-point. The essays really help you zero in on your own problems in your manuscript. The Plot Outline Exercise is a great tool!"
Here are some other writing craft books I like. The links are to the authors’ websites or blogs. If you want to buy, it might be faster to go to your favorite online retailer and paste in the name, or ask your local bookstore to order the book.
My brother, scriptwriter Douglas Eboch, is co-author of The Hollywood Pitching Bible. While it’s targeted at scriptwriters wanting to sell screenplays, a lot of the material is helpful and interesting to novelists as well, especially if you are trying to find your book’s “hook” or write a query/synopsis.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King is one of my favorite writing craft books. Each chapter covers a specific tip for improving your style, and exercises at the end (with answers in the back) help you see if you are really “getting it.”
There’s a good book by Nancy Sanders called Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career, which points out that we typically write for three reasons – the emotional satisfaction of getting published, to make money, and for the love of writing. She suggests separating those three goals, so you don’t put pressure on yourself to sell what you are writing for love, and you find more practical ways of approaching the other two goals. She then addresses how to target each goal.
The Idiot’s Guide to Children’s Book Publishing, by Harold Underdown, is an excellent overview of the business. It explains the different genres, the difference between a magazine story and a picture book manuscript, how to find a publisher, etc.
Scene and Structure, by Jack Bickham, has a lot of good advice on pacing. Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell, may also be of interest. Both of these are published by Writers Digest.
I found some interesting tidbits in Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon.
The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman, is getting good reviews.
I’ve heard several authors talk about Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One, by Les Edgerton and The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman.
I’m a big fan of using close/deep point of view. Jill Elizabeth Nelson has a book called Rivet Your Readers with Deep POV.
And if you need help with grammar (or know someone who does), these have been recommended by writing teachers I know:
Things That Make Us (Sic), by Martha Brockenbrough
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
Painless Grammar, by Rebecca Elliott
Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman
Please share your other favorite books in the comments. I hope you’ll be able to give yourself some writing gifts this year – and perhaps share the knowledge with other aspiring writers you know!
Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show.