Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Books to Read When You're Trying To Write

Posted By Daisy

Frank O’Connor said that writing means 'applying the arse of the trousers to the seat of the chair.’ Even if I have a next-morning deadline for a feature, I’ll still clean the house, go for a walk, de-clutter my wardrobe, watch repeats of ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ or even worse ‘Two Broke Girls’, apply fake tan, smoke cigarettes, or make a Mars Bar cake. Eventually I’ll power up my laptop at about 9p.m., a momentous act in itself. And write until the early hours.
I have a pile of ‘How To Write’ books in my house. These include, in order of preference:

On Writing, Stephen King – Keep your writing simple. All adverbs are extraneous.

The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron -  Write 3 pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing every morning for the duration of this 12-week creativity course. Don’t bother reading back over them. They are simply a remedy for a creative block.

Any Writing 101 course will usually recommend King's or Cameron's book. Cameron recommends writing ‘Morning Pages’ every day – unfortunately I failed immediately, preferring the warmth of my bed in the mornings. Last week, I decided I would attend ‘Sunrise Yoga’ in town at 6a.m. and duly set the alarm. The following morning, I woke up at 9:30am, having missed yoga, and was very late for work. But I like Cameron’s idea of having a ‘Creative Date’ with yourself – once a week, take yourself off to an art gallery, or a beach, or watch an arthouse movie.

Write and Get Paid For It, Terry Prone: One of my favourite writing books is Terry Prone’s ‘Write and Get Paid For it’. First published in 1979, it is outdated now, but the basic ideas are still very relevant. Especially good for freelance journalists, it gives great advice on organising ideas/archiving features. And Prone advises not to worry about rejection, or age.

Writing for the Market, Patricia O’Reilly: Another oldie – it gives great advice for would-be feature writers, with interviews from features editors of Irish newspapers. O’Reilly recommends always being on the alert for feature ideas. When I started feature writing, my biggest conundrum was where to get ideas. Now I know that feature ideas are ever-present and there for the taking.  I went hillwalking for the first time last week, and have a pitchable feature idea from the day.

O’Reilly also recommends having a niche subject. I have one which I have a huge interest in and knowledge of (i.e. my day job) and so often get called by editors when newsworthy topics about this subject appear.

Travel Writer’s Guide, Gorgon Burgett: Burgett advises on re-selling travel features -  by the time you’ve sold your feature five or six times, it’s almost a sin. I have still to figure out how to do this. He also recommends avoiding negativity in travel features. I once wrote a travel feature about Easter Island, recommending that people simply ‘buy the DVD’ rather than travelling to the island to get ripped off by the locals. It wasn’t the best feature I ever wrote.

The Maeve Binchy Writer’s Club, Maeve Binchy: Keep a journal recording overheard snippets of conversation, ideas, quotes and details of competitions, prizes and awards. Deadlines are important.

Write a Book in A Year, Jacinta McDevitt: Write 410 words everyday. You have three goals – to start, to keep going, and to finish.

How to Get Published and Make a Lot of Money, Susan Page: I got this as a present and have never read it. However, a quick skim through advises that very few people make a living by writing alone. Most people have co-occupations too. Don’t give up the day job.

Even though I procrastinate, there is nothing better than the feeling of re-reading a well-written, finished piece. Because a writer always knows when a piece is well-written, and when a piece is mediocre. I still get excited when I see my by-line in a newspaper, and I hope that never goes away.
(Top illustration by Marc Johns)


  1. Replies
    1. My Family and Other Animals- point taken though- a fairly pathetic attempt at a photo!!x