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Resources for Beginning Writers

March 18, 2012

I am doing a panel at OmniCon for beginning writers.  I still feel like one myself sometimes.  Early in my career, I made use of a lot of different books and other resources.  Here’s a list of some that I still find incredibly valuable.

The Books

  1. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy (Card): It’s actually about time for me to reread this one.  I like to do so sometimes to remind myself just what the genre expects of me (and vice versa).  Orson Scott Card is a master in the field and does a great job communicating the ins and outs of sci-fi and fantasy.  A must read for all aspiring speculative fiction writers.
  2. The Elements of Style (Strunk and White): Okay, I confess; I’ve never read it.  Not once.  That doesn’t change the fact that it’s the armchair book of choice for basic grammatical technique.  If not EoS, then have something: The Chicago Manual of Style, Harbrace College Handbook, a recent grammar text.  I don’t care how good you are, you’ll need to look stuff up.  (If you never need to, you’re not varying your prose enough.)
  3. Elements of Writing Fiction Series (Card, Kress, Noble, Bickham, and others): I cheated a bit here.  I had trouble selecting one book from this series, so I put the whole thing.  I found Character and Viewpoint very useful early on while Beginnings, Middles, and Ends was a bit more advanced and Plot fell pretty well in the middle.  Each book in the series was good, though Description was a little to poetic for my taste.
  4. Creating Short Fiction (Knight): If you want to write (and sell) short fiction, this book is a must read.  Damon Knight was a master at short stories and taught a lot of people who also went on the be masterful.  Short stories aren’t book chapters or under-developed novels; they have their own tempos, their own expectations.  This book demonstrates the ins and outs of a widely overlooked medium.
  5. Writing the Breakout Novel (Maass):  This is a book by a literary agent about what literary agents need to see in novels.  Yes, this is a how-to book for writing novels.  No, it is not a step-by-step, paint-by-numbers method.  Maass helps you pick which idea in your head to develop (because, face it, you have dozens) and walks you through the necessities to have a novel that doesn’t just pop but erupts.
  6. The First Five Pages (Lukeman): Ever pick up a book in a bookstore and read a few pages to see if it’s worth anything?  You aren’t alone.If you want an editor/agent/reader to reach page six of your novel/story, you first need to get the job done on the first five pages.  (See what I did there?)  This book really helps get the all important beginning right so the rest of the work gets a chance.

The Links

  1. SFWA:  The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America is the professional organization for speculative fiction writers.  No, you can’t join right out of the starting blocks.  You need to make 3 qualifying professional short fiction sales or one qualifying professional novel sale  to become a full member.  But its the resource link you should be familiar with, like Writer Beware.  Several of the other links here are SFWA pages.
  2. Workshops: From Critters to Clarion, there’s a workshop to benefit every writer at every level.  This links to my website’s workshop page with a lot of resources.  (Email me if you find any links outdated or broken.)
  3. Turkey City Lexicon: Funny name, invaluable terminology.  Infodump, squid on the mantelpiece, smeerps…whatever’s wrong (or right) with your story, it might already have a name.  Naming a thing makes it easier to identify.
  4. Standard Manuscript Format: You must know this.  You must use this.  To do otherwise is to mark yourself an amateur.
  5. Heinlein’s Rules of Writing: This is Beginning Writing 101.  I don’t follow all of these rules perfectly, but I know them.  You should, too.
  6. Duotrope: Okay, I wrote a story.  Where do I send it?  I use Duotrope to target markets, track submissions, and predict response times.
  7. I Should Be Writing: This podcast helps writers maintain sanity as they write and experience things like doubt, writer’s block, deadlines, etc.

That’s a Baker’s dozen to keep you busy.  But don’t forget to do some writing, too.  That’s what this is all about anyway, right?


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