Kathleen’s Favorite Writing Resources

We’re discussing our favorite writing craft resources this week, and before I share mine, I want to offer a caveat. Books on writing, podcasts about writing, meditations on creativity: they’re all great. But, there’s no substitute for actually sitting in the chair and typing the words. 

Writers write. 

They may also read about writing and think about writing and commune with other writers, but none of those can take the place of actually just grinding out the sentences. I’m telling you this because I’m as susceptible as the next gal to doing something tangentially related to writing without actually producing any work. And my God, sometimes I really wish those loosely connected activities moved the needle. 

Here are a few resources I’ve loved. They’ve each helped me when it’s time for no-excuses, no-regrets writing:

A Writer’s Time: Making the Time to Write by Kenneth Atchity.

I read this when I was about 20k into an initial draft of MINOR DRAMAS. It was on the recommended reading list for an online novel-writing class I took. There are a lot of gems in the book. Here are some of my favorites:

  • “[I]n order to become productive and professional, your philosophy must be optimism. Unwavering optimism, or at least optimism with a built-in swerve override.”
  • “The longer an idea ‘percolates’ in the mind, the greater its chances of being expressed clearly and powerfully when the time is right.”
  • “If you want to be a writer, don’t hope to displace your anxiety. Instead, find ways of coping with it, tricking it, transforming it.”

One thing I love about this book is that Atchity tells writers what to do, definitively and gently. He makes your project seem possible (inevitable, really) and outlines the habits that will bring you to publication, whether through traditional or independent means. 

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

This is my go-to when I can’t figure out what’s supposed to happen next in my story.  I write in multiple points of view which sometimes muddies the waters in terms of plot. Even in the face of narrative complexity, though, a quick re-read of the Save the Cat “beats” (required happenings in order to tell a coherent and satisfying story) sets me straight. Or at least, it gets the juices flowing. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a friend who has an innate sense of narrative structure who also helps me with this. But, when I’ve exhausted a reasonable number of text messages or desperate emails to my unofficial editor, Brody does a nice job of filling the void.

And here are two more picks for a blend of how-to and just-do-it:

Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk, “Your Elusive Creative Genius.” This is the precursor to Gilbert’s excellent book, Big Magic, and it’s perfect for when you need a quick hit of motivation. One of my favorite parts comes at 10:11 when Gilbert describes the process of the poet Ruth Stone.

How Story Works Podcast by Lani Diane Rich. Rich tells you what your story must have and how to get it. She breaks down several popular movies as examples, which really helps solidify the narrative theory concepts she describes.

Happy writing! I hope some of these help you move from “want to” to “doing it.”

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Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.