Writing Help

Here are some good books that assist me with my writing:
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
The first section is a brief memoir of his live and how it led to his career in writing. It is interesting to see how his young life went and how he became a writer. It is entertaining and helpful in that “if he could do it, I can do it” way.
The rest of the book encompasses his methods and views on writing. he preaches Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style pretty heavily, for obvious reasons. He is self-depreciating, to the point, and delivers some sound advice for aspiring writers.
It covers topics such as writing style, the process of writing, setting up a place for writing, how to get through writing the whole book, and how to write a publishable manuscript, among many other points that are well worth studying. Extremely good stuff. I heartily recommend it.
The Elements of Style (4th Edition) by William Strunk, Jr. & E. B. White
This dinky book doesn’t look like much. It is thin and the cover is not flashy. If you skim through it, you will notice that there are no paragraphs and that the entries are short and blunt.
It is also the single best book about the craft of writing. All of those goodies that you learned about how to craft sentences in school are boiled down into a few sections of this outstanding little book.
If you are serious about writing, get this book. I guarantee that most editors own it.


From Baen’s Bar:

On the use of quotations: Every stylebook I have checked agrees. The form should be:
“Is he ill?” she asked.
The question mark goes within the quotation marks and the “s” in “she” is lowercase. It is one sentence, not two.
In all styles I checked, the comma goes inside the quotation marks unless the matter inside those marks is a single word used as a term. Thus the sentence:
He called it a “term”, but I disagree.
is correct. But it is correct only in one style, APA, which is an ugly style anyway. Chicago allows it with the use of single quotation marks surrounding a term, though it recommends using italics; and everyone else says to put the comma inside the quotation marks.
The general rule is that commas and periods go inside the quotation marks and other punctuation goes inside _only_ if it refers to the matter within the quote. Thus you might get:
Did she say, “He is sick”?
Please remember when you are arguing over grammar that it is a very fluid thing. The grammar that was considered standard
in the mid-1800s is considered outrageous today. That is how it should be, since English is still being used by living people. And much of what we call grammar is really a matter of style, which is whatever editors decide it is.
Much of what you learned about grammar in elementary and high school is folklore. Almost every grammarian spends at least a page laughing over the silly rules your teachers gave you.
So when you argue over grammar, try to remember that there are very few, if any, hard rules. There are, however, quite a few “nonrules” that seem to generate a lot of heat. Most important, remember that the only reason for grammar is to
make it easier for the reader to understand what you mean. So if you have to break a rule, break it. Heck, I doubt that most of us are any good with rules in the rest of our lives. It seems silly to
become upset with them here.
For those who are looking for easy grammar books, I recommend two that have helped me: Bernstein’s The Careful Writer and the AP Stylebook. They are easy to use and also fun to read.

Brust on Writing, via Brust on Painting

Brust’s The Sun, the Moon, & the Stars isn’t about writing. It’s also one of the best books about writing, written by a writer, that I’ve read. A couple of the bits that I read before and liked have been banging around in my head, and I dug out the book and found them today.
When I get this far into a project, it always starts to drag, no matter how excited I am. The important thing is to keep going, and, no matter how much it hurts, to take care that each stroke is applied correctly. A lot of my worst work has been done during the middle stage of a project, when I feel that, if I’m sloppy here I can make up for it later — but you can only repaint something a certain number of times before you’re going to lose some of the luster, or, if you keep wiping things off with turpentine, before you hurt the canvas itself.
I took frequent breaks here; to sit back and rest. I read for a bit, painted for a bit, and read some more. The important thing at this point was to keep going, and not let myself get burned out.


I do know artists who say, “I can’t look at other people’s work while I’m painting because their style creeps in.” The first time I heard that, I did a cartoon of Gauguin’s style creeping into Cezanne’s work, and I called it “Such tragedy.” I thought it was pretty obvious, but the people who ought to get it never do.
I can’t understand that attitude. So, someone’s style has an influence on you. So what? Is his ghost going to come and push your brush around? […] Whoever else you’re looking at, you are the one doing the painting, and that’s that.


I’ve been thinking about an interview with Roger Zelazny that I read a few years ago. I remember very distinctly a few of the things he wrote:

“I try to write every day, four times a day… It doesn’t sound like much but it’s kinda like the hare and the tortoise. If you try that several times a day you’re going to do more than three sentences, one of them is going to catch on. You’re going to say “Oh boy!” and then you just write. You fill up the page and the next page. But you have a certain minimum so that at the end of the day, you can say “Hey […] at least I didn’t goof off completely today.” I don’t get writer’s block. I’ve slowed down sometimes. I can always write and that’s the thing with three sentences at a time, even if you’re feeling sluggish you can always get three sentences out.”

I’ve always found Zelazny’s attitude towards writing very inspiring — there’s no mystique about it — in his opinion, someone with one short story to their name is as much a ‘professional’ as someone with umpteen Hugo’s and 50 books in print.
Just a thought.
[update: finally found the interview over here]


I discovered a neat little freeware (!) program called Rough Draft, a light word processor specifically designed to help one write a book or screenplay. There are a variety of features included in the program to make writing in these formats easier, and it seems pretty useful. Also interesting since it’s more robust than, say Notepad or Metapad, without getting into the bloat that is M$ software
The Roughdraft homepage is here.