First off, Lynn Viehl has a terrific post about teaching yourself to write. As usual, she’s totally on the money. I don’t have a college degree and I never took a creative writing class after the age of 14. I thought my first novel was pretty good — until I started trying to find an agent. I learned plenty pretty quick, and most of my resources are on my sidebar.
You’re not going to catch me writing many posts about craft. I’ve never cracked the spine on a writing book, because most of them make me want to find a lighter and a fireplace. I learned grammar and spelling in grade school, and I’d rather learn plotting and dialogue by seeing someone do it well — not by someone telling me how to do it.
I do read a lot of non-fiction, however, and some of my best writing resources have nothing to do with writing at all, however.
They have to do with people:
The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
This book was handed to me by a woman in a bookstore when I was 22 years old. She heard me complaining to my boss that I was terrified of a man who’d begun stalking me.
This book changed my life.
It’s not about fear, or rape, or being stalked. It’s about trusting your instincts, and respecting your intuition. It’s also a great read and very engaging, with many real life scenarios described. I recommend it for any woman of any age.
It’s a great book for writers because it talks a lot about human nature and motivation, in a very real way. It’s easy to relate to normal people when you’re normal. But it can be tough to create viable villains when you don’t understand how they think or why they act the way they do, and it can be tough to get your protagonist out of a jam in a creative way. I find myself remembering passages from this book when I’m crafting how a villain will act on a heroine, and how the heroine will react.
(He has a follow up book called Protecting the Gift, which covers parenting, which is also worth a read.)
Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons by Meg Meeker, MD
I actually started reading this book because I’m very involved in the lives of two boys, my thirteen year old stepson and my three year old son. But I’m fascinated by how much this book talks about the way boys think, because as a woman, I’m not in the club. My current novel has several male characters, four of which are brothers, and this book has had a tremendous impact on how I see them interacting with each other, their peers, and with girls their age. As a woman and a mother, it’s tough to understand how boys think, to understand their motivations, and to see why boys are so full of action and vigor and the need to get dirty. Learning about the “guy code,” and male views on sexuality, and how much influence a father has in guiding a boy to a man has been very eye-opening for me, both as a mother and as a writer.
Surviving Domestic Violence: Stories of Women Who Broke Free by Elaine Weiss
This book was amazing. It was told through case study, and most of the stories were heartbreaking. I actually picked it up as research for a character I was writing, but I was gripped by the subject matter and the survival stories, and I read the entire book cover-to-cover. I had an abusive boyfriend once, long ago, and though I never had to put up with the abuse some of these women did, I was intrigued by (and identified with) their reasons for staying with abusive husbands. The emotional abuse that’s coupled with physical violence is downright diabolical. Many people don’t understand why women stay with abusive partners — and I never understood either, about myself or others. But seeing it play out, hearing both sides, and watching from the outside gives new insight into human strengths and motivation. This was a powerful book that moved me in many ways, and I’m glad I read it.