On Writing by Stephen King
Why you should read it: To learn the craft of writing, To gain writing inspiration
Stephen King is one of my biggest literary heroes. For one, he's prolific, creative, and able to conquer any genre. Secondly, he proves that you can be both popular and good, and Stephen King is more than a good writer, he is a damn great writer. That's why when Stephen King writes a book about writing, people should read it and pay attention.
And they did.
King published the first edition of On Writing in 2000, and since then, it has been hailed as one of the best books on the craft of writing. Here are some sample quotes from the book if Stephen King's name and the book's buzz hasn't convinced you:
- “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
- “Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
- “In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it 'got boring,' the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.”
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey
Why you should read it: To learn how to deal with rejection, maintain a positive mood, and deal with haters
All writers have experienced rejection and criticism, and it is hard emotionally to work passionately on a project only to have it turned down or not appreciated. All of this mental anguish can lead to depression, feelings of helplessness, or gnarly bitterness, and this is why it is very important for all writers to train their minds to combat these negative feelings.
This is why I recommend everyone read Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He offers seven behavioral models that people can adapt to change their mindset to focus not on what other people do to us, but how we react to those actions. After all, it makes sense. We can't control whether or not we're rejected. We can't control whether or not people will like the work that we toiled away at for hours, days, or years. But we can control how we take that criticism, and once we take that control, we've retained the sanity necessary to keep going and write the next thing.
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Why you should read it: To learn how to make friends, fans, and business contacts in person and online; To learn how to not irritate people
The old stereotype about writers was that they were awkward hermits who were incapable of social interaction but were brilliant on the page. The old stereotype was that the written page was enough for writers to be successful. However, this is no longer the case. Now writers must master the art of networking, social media, and TV appearances to stick out amongst the crowd, and to be good at this, writers have to be as likeable as their works have to be readable.
This is where How to Win Friends and Influence People comes in. It offers common sense tips on how to get people to like you, and it's surprising how simple the tips are. Yet, many people don't do them. For instance, Carnegie writes the importance of learning and using people's names. I can't tell you how annoyed I've felt when I've met someone several times and they kept acting like they didn't remember me. Not remembering people's names make them feel like you did not view them as important, and using someone's name in conversation makes him or her feel a connection to you. They appreciate that you made them feel appreciated and special, and that's why they'll like you.
The idea of appreciating others is the main theme of Carnegie's book. Make people feel appreciated and they will appreciate you. There's no need for manipulation or crazy unrealistic tricks. Just let go of your ego and focus more on other people, and that's how you'll get friends and fans. This idea of appreciation works in person and online, and in the modern age when writers must market themselves using social media or must attend conventions or make TV appearances, I cannot stress enough the importance of reading this book.
A Million Bucks by 30 by Alan Corey
Why you should read it: To learn how to manage your finances, To be inspired to accumulate wealth even with an average income
Although a small percentage of artists are big shots, most of the rest of us are working another job to get by or too poor to afford new clothes or health care. This is why the idea of becoming a millionaire or wealthy without selling Hollywood screenplays or writing the next Twilight doesn't seem very realistic, right?
Alan Corey's A Million Bucks by 30 documents in step by step detail how a person who made approximately $30K a year living in NEW YORK became a millionaire in less than ten years.
I'll admit, his methods are less than glamorous. Live in a super cheap place. Don't engage in luxuries like going out or dining out. Buy affordable real estate even if that means you'll have to commute or if the place is less than up-to-date.
Alan Corey chronicles his financial journey, and after I read it, I was inspired to think about my own financial future. It would be wonderful if I could make myself as frugal as he was so that I could be a millionaire, but alas, I cannot adapt to his extremes such as cutting out nights of entertainment. Nevertheless, I took away other tidbits of financial success such as not using credit cards and opening a second savings account to hide money from myself.
Writers--you've worked hard for your money. Now be smart with it, and you'll be surprised how far you can take it.
He's Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo
Why you should read it: To understand how to view literary representation
You may be wondering why I included a dating book as an essential for writers, but I had to include this because this book not only changed the way I thought about dating but also the way I thought about literary representation.
I frequently get asked by newbie writers if I have any tips on how to get literary representation, and I tell them different methods such as queries, contests, or referrals. After that, they often tell me that they've tried those methods and haven't heard back from any managers or agents, and with a bit of regret, I have to tell those newbie writers that "He/She's just not that into you. Focus on your writing and move on."
Am I being harsh? No way. Representation is not the be all-end all of being a writer, even though some novices mistakenly believe that.
To illustrate my point, I'm going to repeat the tale I published recently of when I worked with a Hollywood literary manager who just wasn't that into me. (If all the text below bores you, I also illustrated the story here.)
This story has several points that tie into what He's Just Not That Into You preaches.Years ago, I won a major screenwriting contest, and the contest held a reception for all the winners and finalists. At the reception, there was a literary manager there, and I knew that he had a history of selling a lot of studio projects so I was really hoping he would like me.
At the reception, I stared at him from across the room, and he just hung out on that other side and I watched as he conversed with other people. As the night progressed, I continued to stare like a creepy predator, and as the night was nearing the end, I decided to make my move and go up and talk to him.
There was a line to get to him, as other writers were also trying to scoop in on him, and after I waited my turn, I finally got my one-on-one. I hoped that I would wow him with my Midwestern charm and the fact that I had won the contest, but he seemed generally apathetic towards me. After a few moments of forced conversation, he ended our talk with, "Send me an email if you have anything else."
To me, "Send me an email if you have anything else" was the literary manager equivalent to "I'll call you" after a bad one night stand. I already had the vibe that he didn't want to rep me because 1) he didn't come up to me at the reception 2) he seemed hella bored talking to me 3) me winning a contest didn't prove to him that I had what it took to be a client.
Dejected, I didn't send him anything, and weeks later, I got an email announcement from another contest stating that he had signed that winner immediately.
My ego deflated like I had just seen on Facebook that my ex-boyfriend was getting married.
He didn't want me? He wanted that other guy? It was all too much rejection for me to handle, so instead of moping, I moved forward and wrote other stuff with all the bitterness I harnessed inside of me.Months and months passed, and I was surprised one afternoon to find an email from the lit manager, asking me why I never sent him more stuff.
"Huh?" I thought. "You were serious about that?"
After a few exchanges back and forth, we discussed my screenwriting career goals, and he asked me to send him 10 feature ideas. One of those story ideas was for HELL'S GAME. He rejected it and said it was too cliche. I was bummed out, thinking HELL'S GAME was amazing, but we continued to brainstorm. He sent me a copy of the script "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" and told me he wanted something like that. I pitched him "Houdini: Serial Killer" and he said that wasn't big enough. There was already a feature about Houdini: Monster Slayer, and by this point, I was really starting to hate professional screenwriting. He sensed my frustration, and he asked me to send him a TV pilot I had been working on. I was hesitant to do so because it seemed like something he wouldn't like, but I figured, well he asked for it. So I sent it and never heard from him again.
- If he doesn't pursue you, he's just not that into you.
- If he won't commit to you by signing you as a client (but officially snatches up some other guy and proudly announces that in a large listserv email), he's just not that into you.
- If he shows up out of the blue, he may be mildly interested, but he's just not that into you.
- If he hates all of your ideas, he's just not that into you.
- If he disappears without saying why or that he's dropping you, he's just not that into you.
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