I picked Plot & Structure as the next item on my reading list because after revisiting the list of popular creative writing books on Goodreads, I spotted it in the top ten. It hadn’t been there when I started the original 10 books project, but it’s interesting to see the ways in which that list fluctuates over time so I thought it was worth taking a closer look.
I was just starting out in libraries around the time that Eat, Pray, Love was the big thing everyone was reading in their book clubs. I remember picking up a copy of the book out of curiosity and also watching the movie but my reading amnesia is such that the only thing I remember from either version is the Eddie Vedder song “Better Days.”
I must have liked the book well enough though because I remember when Big Magic first came out, I immediately put it on reserve. I also remember reading the first fifty pages or so and thinking, “Yeah, this isn’t for me.” And that was before I got to the comment that implies a certain lack of glamor in being a writer asked to speak about libraries as part of a panel. Hmph.
But in my quest to expand my readings on creative writing and creativity in general, I happened to catch sight of this book on the library shelf (it’s hard to miss: the colors on the cover are very bright) and on a whim decided to pick it up again. This time I got all the way through it and I’m still pretty sure the book isn’t for me but I was interested to find that in between all the talk about creativity as a magical thing, there was also some talk about research.
Now that the 10 books project is over, I’m ready to start venturing beyond that particular list to start looking at a wider range of books on writing, storytelling, and creativity to see what, if anything, they have to say about the role of research in the creative process. Today it’s Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig.
I’ve been a fan of Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog for quite a while now and, in fact, some of the writing-related posts on there by both Wendig and some of his guest authors are a big part of what inspired the original 10 books project and my current research path. So when I saw that he’d published (another) book about writing, I was really excited.
But it actually took me a while to read Damn Fine Story partly because for some reason none of the libraries in my library system had a copy (for shame!) and that’s how I usually get my books. In the end, if I’d gotten this book from the library, I probably would have bought a copy anyway after reading it.
Now that the 10 books project is over, I’m ready to start venturing beyond that particular list to start looking at a wider range of books on writing, storytelling, and creativity to see what, if anything, they have to say about the role of research in the creative process. Today I’m starting with Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.
Back to Creative Writing School by Bridget Whelan reminds me a little bit of a book I used to own (and might still have, buried somewhere in my childhood closet in my parents’ house) called Room to Write by Bonni Goldberg. Room to Write is a book of writing exercises that was given to me as a gift when I was a teenager. At one point, I was determined to complete every exercise in the book.
It turns out I am terrible at writing exercises. Despite that, I still bought another book a few years ago called 642 Things to Write About. It is currently collecting dust on a shelf in my office. I think I did three of the exercises. Same with Start Where You Are.
So you might think that my past record with writing exercises might color my thoughts on Back to Creative Writing School. I thought it might, too, but luckily my purpose in reading it wasn’t to complete any of the exercises. It was to learn whether the author might have anything to say about the role of research in the writing process.
So I’ve mentioned before that in my quest to read and analyze 10 popular books on creative writing to see how/whether they talk about the role of research in the creative process, not every book is a good candidate, but I’m being a completist about it anyway because you never know.
I tend to think of Ray Bradbury’s work as Required Reading, like the kind of thing that’s liable to show up on a high school summer reading list or maybe a college course syllabus. Which is ironic, considering how in at least one of the essays here Bradbury goes on and on about how teachers and librarians don’t appreciate the value of genre fiction like the stuff he writes.
Anyway, in reading this book, I had a couple of takeaways, some of which are related to my research project and some aren’t.
So when I saw The Elements of Style on the list of most popular writing books, I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to have anything in it about research since it’s more of a reference book about punctuation and grammar but I decided to be a completist and include it in my study anyway. I was right that there wasn’t really anything about research, but I’m glad I read it mostly because almost every other book on this list either makes mention of it or actively recommends it.
When it comes to books about grammar and punctuation, I’m more of an Eats, Shoots and Leaves person than a Strunk & White person (as The Elements of Style seems to be more commonly known), so some of my thoughts on The Elements of Style are mixed up with more general thoughts about this topic and ES&L specifically.
Because Writing Fiction is more of a textbook by nature (see below), it has more editions than other books on this list. For this project, I was able to get a hold of the eighth edition, which is not the most recent one. I make note of it only because there might be some content differences between the various editions that I’m unaware of since I only read the one. If you’re familiar with the book and you do spot some differences, I’d be interested to hear about them.