I'm always surprised when I encounter one of those writers who thinks the struggle to master craft stops with publication. Learning is my favorite thing about writing and I'm always stretching myself to improve my craft.
April is Poetry Month so I'm working through Writing The Life Poetic by Sage Cohen and filling my practice notebook with a lot of mediocre verse. Poetry has always intimidated me (I never understood all the significance my high school teachers found in poems), but it's something I want to learn. So I'm practicing every day. The short chapters and exercises in this book are, for lack of a more poetic word, fun.
Here are some other books that have helped me along the way:
Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg. This book gave me permission to practice. Until I found this book I thought that becoming an author required some elusive mixture of alcoholism and magical talent that I didn't seem to possess. Twenty-three spiral notebooks later, I will always be grateful to Natalie Goldberg for showing me the first steps to becoming a writer.
The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer. The gorgeous graphic design in this notebook has me looking forward to the next exercise. These short exercises are a great way to jump-start creativity, silence that annoying internal editor, and feel a sense of accomplishment no matter what else gets written that day. I meet a lot of writers who "just don't have the time." Everyone has the daily ten minutes needed for these quick prompts. No excuses!!!
If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland. Published in 1938 this book provides timeless nuggets of advice as well as inspiration. Ueland writes, "Everybody is talented, original and has something to say..." After you've read Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird and Stephen King's On Writing try this one.
The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass. I read this one so vigorously the pages came loose! I've got high-lighted sections, sticky note markers, notes jotted... I especially love the Practical Tools sections at the end of each chapter. I find myself returning to this craft-intensive book again and again.
Self-Editing For Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I bought this book when I first started revising Jungle Crossing, but I've returned to it every manuscript since. It's also the gift I give to all my friends who complete their first novel.
One last note: Take the time to do the writing exercises listed in craft books. It's often too tempting, too easy, to think, Yup. Did that. Mmm-hmm. Did that too. I'm obviously brilliant--no need to revise. YAY!
You're not really stretching your abilities unless you dig in and do the difficult work.