Here are of various resources (in no particular order) that I have found helpful over the years. I am a firm believer in research. There is rarely a “one way” when it comes to producing fiction, no “one size fits most.” What works for a hyper-organized writer may not work for another, and so one must research widely and try a variety of methods—even if the method seems crazy or annoying (like the outlines I loathe but realize that I need if I want to actually complete something)—until one finds the right fit.
- Janice Hardy has a blog and “fiction university” with more tips about planning your novel, plotting, world building, etc. Yes, a lot of authors will cover the same material, but their approach and the way they describe the problem and solution can be very different but have the same results. Like I said, you look far and wide until you find what clicks.
- Holly Lisle is a well published author who has a number of writing articles (the blue links in the right hand side bar of that page), how-tos, and workshops available at Holly’s Writing Classes. Aside from the articles, a number of her e-books have also been helpful: The Create A Plot Clinic, Mugging the Muse, Page-Turning Scenes, Create a Language Clinic, Create a Culture Clinic, Create a Character Clinic, and How to Write Flash Fiction that Doesn’t Suck course.
- The Creative Penn. Joanna Penn is an indie fiction and non-fiction writer with a blog and podcast where an unpublished author can find a lot of information on writing, marketing, and publishing.
- Rachel Aaron’s Writing Wednesdays and writing blog posts are helpful with tackling various “craft of writing” issues when it comes to non-fiction. Her husband, Travis, posts occasionally with back-end information about the business of writing. Rachel was traditionally published but has since moved to indie publishing and is doing well enough that she was able to hire her husband full time to handle the business side of things.
- Jamie Gold is a paranormal romance author, but the tips she has on her blog can be applied to any genre. She also has various Story Planning Worksheets that she uses when writing her own books that I’ve found helpful.
- Query Shark. Literary Agent Janet Reid offers her services as the Query Shark. People send her their queries with the specific intention of allowing her to tear them apart. The Query Shark is not for the faint of heart, but the victims posted provide us all with valuable learning experience. Writing a good query is not just for the author that’s ready to submit their manuscript to publishers; query writing can help hone in on the heart of your story before you start writing page one and keep you on track all the way to “the end.” The archives are invaluable for helping authors at all stages. Seriously. Go read them. Read them all.
- Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The SAG of the SF/F market. Check out the articles.
- Writer Beware. Here you can find information on the realities of traditional publishing and help arm yourself against predatory vanity publishers who will take your money and run. There is valuable information on legal contracts, as well as lists of publishers–big and small press—and how legit they are.
- Vision: A Resource for Writers is a free webzine by a number of published authors. Each issue features articles and workshops that address any number of topics; outlining, revision, publication, agents, critiquing, plotting, and much more. There is also a cute little comic, a website review, book review, and list of newly published novels and short fiction. You can always check out back issues, and they even allow you to search by category.
- Forward Motion for Writers is a forum designed by authors for authors. It’s actually linked to Vision and Lazette Gifford (Editor of Vision and well published author). I am a lurking member there and not very vocal, but I do check it out now and then. Remember, I am a terrible procrastinator. Free membership opens up many more categories and here you can find workshops, critique groups, and many other helpful things. You can get your query letter critiqued and even find out how fast certain agents and publishers are responding to query letters. If you’re looking for a writing community, this may be a great fit.
Agent and Agency Blogs:
I am not promoting any of these agencies. I do not have personal experience with any of them. I simply follow their agent blogs. If you are interested in traditional publication, then you really need to start following agents and getting an idea for what they are looking for, what the business is like, and how to increase your odds of acceptance.
- YWriter5 by SpaceJock Software. This is a free software for organizing and writing your stories. It’s like a stripped down Scrivener, so it doesn’t have nearly the bells and whistles that Scrivener does. But you can make chapters and scenes, move them around, track progress, etc. I’ve used it for projects as small as Flash Fiction and as large as novels. When I am less cheap, I’ll eventually invest in Scrivener, but for now this gets the job done.
- Bickham, Jack M. Writing the Short Story: A hands on guide for creating captivating short fiction. Writer’s Digest Books, 1998. Print.Bickham provides a clear look at his process for writing short stories from initial character creation to final revision. He utilizes note cards for identifying significant character traits and also for mapping out individual scenes. There is a chapter on scene construction which breaks overall sequences into “scene” and “sequel” where the scene is full of action and the sequel is the introspection following the action, which leads to a choice and a new scene of action. His formula for story-driving scenes requires a character goal at the beginning of each scene, a minimum of three obstacles to that goal, and then a goal answer in the form of “no,” “yes, but…” or “no, and furthermore…” which all deny the character complete success in their goals until the end of the story. He also provides instruction on creating vivid characters through the subtle but effective use of character trait tags. These tags are linked to a specific character so that if a character smokes cigars heavily and a cigar stub is found at the scene of the crime, the reader makes a mental connection to the cigar-smoking character.
- Gardner, John. On Becoming a Novelist. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999. Print.Gardner presents a no-holds-barred look at what it takes to be a novelist. He differentiates between novelists, such as Hemmingway or O’Connor, and what he calls the “hack writers” of popular fiction. His approach can be somewhat offensive and most certainly elitist. He points out that there is a difference between writing excellent fiction and writing fiction that will just get published. That said, it is still a good book that lays out the difficulties that face the serious novelist, what to expect, and how to overcome them. He assumes that the “serious novelist” is more interested in honing and perfecting their craft than they are in publishing and being a best-seller. He also points out that the life of a serious novelist is not one for the faint of heart, and it rarely pays well. Despite his disdain for “popular” fiction, much of what Gardner says can be utilized by the popular fiction author to create deeper, better fiction that stands out from the crowd.Gardner discusses writer’s block, writing times, journaling, and other methods of honing skill, capturing ideas, and developing an author’s unique writing voice. It is up to the author to glean what they can from Gardner’s experiences, to see if they are willing to put in the time, effort, and sacrifice required to be excellent, and to use these suggestions to strengthen their own writing.
- Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1991. Print.The Art of Fiction is less about the writer’s life and more about the actual production of fiction. Like other writers, Gardner lays out the various methods he uses to produce his stories and the ways that he overcomes various obstacles. His approach is different than Jack M. Bickham’s but, in many ways, aspects of each method can complement each other.
- Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: First Anchor Books, 1995. Print.
“Sh*tty first drafts”. Anne Lamott introduced me to that little nugget. Sure, other authors might tell you to just write, but Anne gives you permission to write that first draft, embracing the fact that it’s a sh*tty first draft, and worry about cleaning it up later. Just. Write. Words. On. The. Paper.
While one of the last sources I read, Bird by Bird was probably one of the more helpful books when I was preparing my English Capstone Project. This is because Lamott doesn’t just say “write every day, write about anything,” she then explains what she means by “anything.” This sounds sort of stupid at first glance. She suggested that we think about something as benign as school lunches and then to write absolutely everything we can remember about school lunches. No two people will have the same memories as any other person because our experiences are unique. I found that her process and explanations gave more dimension to the suggestions by previous authors and shed new light on what was actually meant. I also found that Ms. Lamott and I are very similar. She bares her soul and discusses the awkward person she is. Like me, she tends to be tense and spend her life walking around with her shoulders around her ears. And, like me, she will have full blown conversations with the air (for example, she accidentally runs a stop sign, then has a conversation with an imaginary police officer trying to explain herself). I do this, and it’s wonderful to know that I am not alone.