Reading for Writing

I’ve read plenty of “how to write” books focused on creativity and authorship – especially when I first started out and had no confidence. Overall, these guides have been…disappointing. I’ve wasted too much time on myopic, condescending garbage that got sent straight to library donation. I just can’t seem to throw a book away, even if it IS trash.

But! Bad books swept aside, I want to tell you about my favorite writing book. It’s called Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. I appreciate the Now Write! series because each book (divided by genre such as nonfiction or mystery) is a compilation of many different, expert voices. Instead of most “how to write” books, cobbled in an echo chamber by someone I’ve never heard of, the Now Write! series highlights the advice of many. Each author is given a short chapter to make their own. Even better, at the end of each chapter, that advice is worded into a practical writing exercise that you can try out with your own work. For example, in a chapter about scene construction, author Lilian Stewart Carl describes her own writing process with a beautiful paragraph from her own published work. She compares/contrasts her style with other authors such as Tolkien and Lovecraft, and then offers up an exercise to complete. Her chapter-lesson is only 3 pages, but every paragraph is immediately useful.

This book includes 87 different authors, all with their own blessedly concise chapter that details 1) a personal story about their writing process; 2) a practical example of their writing in action; and 3) a step-by-step writing exercise to try out for yourself. I was consistently amazed how applicable and challenging the chapters were as I read along. It’s always a good sign when my book is full of bookmarks – places to highlight and return to for a future visit.
Another aspect of this book I like is the attention to credibility. At the beginning of each author’s chapter, their accomplishments are given. Now Write! is packed with authors who have won international awards, had screenplays developed into films, been translated into dozens of languages, and more. This is especially enlightening when I don’t recognize the name of the author, but I recognize where their writing has appeared (such as X-FilesThe Outer LimitsTwilight Zone, or Star Trek). I also love reading author blurbs, because third-person bios are an art form all their own.
Currently, the Now Write! series consists of five books, with Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror being the most recent (and IMO best). I would love to see more of these in the future, perhaps tackling such temperamental genres as romance or humor.
If you’re in the mood to be inspired, this book is a true one-stop-shop of encouragement, ideas, and guidance.