My Favorite Book on Writing

People always ask me what my favorite book on the writer’s craft is. I hem and haw. Choke a bit and cough. Finally squeak out an answer in a low whisper.

I know what I’m supposed to say. It is expected that I will answer with one of the following:

  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James Frey
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.
  • The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall
  • On Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
  • Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

I have all of these and 50 more. I absolutely love the books on this list and as a writer you do yourself a disservice if you don’t read them all. Although, for learning the craft, there’s a new series of books that I highly recommend for the nuts and bolts of effective genre writing. I’ll cover it in a different post.

But back to my favorite, I picked up a book in the early 2000’s at the Maui Writers Conference that I use almost every day (or at least the tools derived from it). It is a completely obscure book about brainstorming for writers. It is the Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer by James V. Smith Jr. and is the only book that I own that is full of my own notes, bookmarks and underlining. (Although all my recent Kindle purchases are highlighted extensively.)

I believe brainstorming is a fundamental key to writing fiction that is fresh. You may have mastered all the other writing skills but your reader is looking for a new surprise or twist.

The book is essentially a compendium of writer’s brainstorming tools that I haven’t seen in one place elsewhere.

Smith’s ‘Brainstormer Strategy Five — Never Settle’ speaks to the intent of the entire book. He suggests you tell yourself:  “From now on, no one answer, especially a first answer, will do. I will no longer be satisfied with the first thing that pokes me in my minds eye. I will not spit out the first word that I lay my tongue on. I will not trundle out the first cliché that pops into my keyboard. I will not accept a one-dimensional character in my fiction because I’m too lazy to dig deeper into his personality and find his unique quirks. I will not let my hero out of a jam in my script by taking the foot-worn path of thousand television sitcom heroes have traveled before him. I will never again settle. Never, never, never. I am writer. Hear me roar.”

I read that quote every day as I complete my daily Writer’s Journal before I begin work on my current novel.

The book is full of checklists, prompts and ideas that if utilized consistently will jumpstart your brain. I’ve converted many of the ideas into forms that I use every day. The more often you stretch your creative capabilities to force new associations and ideas, the easier it becomes.

If you’re suffering from writer’s block or you want to push your thinking beyond the obvious, the Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer can lead you out of the desert. It is incredibly cheap on Kindle: $3.99 to buy. Or $0.00 on Kindleunlimited

If you only get one decent idea out of it, it’s more than worth the price. If nothing else, write down the 'never settle' quote from above and think about it every time you start to write.

After writing about this, I think I’m in the mood for brainstorming….