I’m sampling canapés at a party when someone walks up with a J.K. Rowling gleam in their eye. “I hear that you’re an editor. I have this great idea for a book, but I’m not sure how to get started. What do you recommend?”
As I stifle the urge to fling the hummus in their general direction, I recommend those classics that I’ve long used for classes, writing workshops and myself: On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (Harper Perennial, 2006) by William Zinsser, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (Anchor, 1995), and Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg (Shambhala, 2005). For guys, I’ll usually toss in Stephen King’s classic, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Scribner, 2000). But I haven’t been sure how to answer, “What’s new and inspiring?”
Thanks to some recent releases, I now have the answer to that question. These guides will you develop the mad skills you need to dazzle them at your writing group. And you can let your friendly neighborhood editor get back to her canapés.
The Jane Austen Writers’ Club: Inspiration and Advice from the World’s Best-Loved Novelist by Rebecca Smith (Bloomsbury, September 20, 2016)
This book channels Jane Austen so convincingly I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Rebecca Smith is her five-time great niece. Smith doesn’t just use Austen’s writing to illustrate important points in creating fiction, but offers letters where Jane advised aspiring writers on their craft. She even has a few saucy tricks up her sleeve that are surprisingly modern—such as torturing your darlings.
The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein (W.W. Norton & Company, September 6, 2016)
It’s hard not to throttle the arrogant and uninformed when they declare that writing fiction for children and young adults is easy. It’s just the opposite. To the contrary—writing for young people is often excruciatingly difficult because every word must be perfect. Klein, an experienced children’s book editor, lays it all out for you and provides exercises and insight into how to make it all work. This is far more than a book; it’s a master class in how to create a novel from start to finish. Even if your heart is set on adult fiction I recommend picking this one up and giving it a hard read. Her advice on plot, voice and character development applies across readerships and genres.
Literary Starbucks: Fresh-Brewed, Half-Caf, No-Whip Bookish Humor by Jill Poskanzer, Wilson Josephson and Nora Katz (St. Martin’s Griffin, August 23, 2016)
This slender tome won’t make you a novelist, but it’s the exactly right amount of distraction when you’ve left your hero dangling at the edge of a cliff and don’t know how to get him down. The jokes are so literary, so insider-y that you’ll feel better about yourself just getting the references. And so short you can still finish writing your 500 words today. Just fight the urge to be super meta by taking the book to an actual Starbucks. You’ve got writing to do.