Category Archives: Indispensable Writing Books


Indispensable Writing Books: Your Screenplay Sucks!

your screenplay sucks

A few weeks ago, I pared down my home library to about 100 books. I donated the rest to my local library, including two boxes full of books on the writing craft. This book stayed. Why? Because it’s a complete guide to all the rookie mistakes you’ll make trying to tell a story.

Your Screenplay Sucks! is written for screenwriters, so there are quite a lot of notes on screenplay format, dealing with Hollywood executives, and crafting dialogue. Am I currently writing a screenplay? No. Is the advice in here still relevant to the novel I’m writing, and the non-fiction books I’ve already published? Absolutely.

This book is a checklist of 100 way to make your work better, from crafting characters, to doing your research, to writing yourself out of your own problems. It is as encouraging as it is painful. Akers does not pull any punches. In fact, the entire book is meant to discourage you from a writing career, because writing is awful and painful and writing to make money is a special level of hell.

If you’re still determined to write any kind of fiction (or even creative non-fiction), the pointers in this book will help guide that process. It helped me get some new ideas as I was outlining my current novel. I’ll pick it up again when I start editing the draft I’m writing. I will probably reference it again to make sure I’m not missing anything before I start looking into publishing.

If you want some quick and dirty tips to encourage you, frighten you, or challenge you to work harder, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book and keeping it handy as you go through the writing process. (affiliate link)



Indispensable Writing Books: Stein on Writing


I have a long list of books that have inspired me as a writer, but there’s only one that I turn to when I want to work harder. Many of the writing advice books out there are written in a friendly and encouraging tone. They want you to know that anyone can write a novel. You can do it in a month. It’s super easy! Try it!

Not Stein on Writing.

Stein is a professional editor and teacher who worked with some of the giants in literature. This book isn’t about how to become a writer. This book is about how to become a professional.

There are sections on perfecting your first paragraph, how to add suspense, how to create realistic dialogue, and how to find your secrets so you can write around them. Just about everything you’d want to know when writing a book is in here: how to create good characters, how to manage plot, how to engage a reader.

This is by no means an easy read. He uses many examples from classic literature, from his clients, and from his students. Each chapter could be a class in an MFA program, complete with challenges and assignments. Whenever I feel like I need practice, I sit down with this book and read another chapter. It usually hurts. It’s like having a masterclass with the famous violinist Itzhak Perlman, when you’ve just learned “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the violin.

If you really want to learn how to become a powerful writer, both of fiction and non-fiction, I highly recommend buying a copy of this book and reading it slowly, over and over, and practicing the advice. I’m not promising it will be a pleasant experience, but I do think it will be a fruitful one.



Indispensable Writing Books: The Artist’s Way

My friend Gregory Lynn from Tales From the Mad Monk has an ongoing series highlighting his favorite books on writing. He and I came up with the idea several weeks ago, and I’m finally sitting down and sharing mine. This is the first of several posts about my favorite books on writing.


The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron may not sound like a writing book, but this single woo-woo piece of spiritual self-help has been the most important book in my writing career. Why? Because before I read it, I hadn’t written a creative word in almost a decade.

The first time I went through it was with an online group of digital designers. I wanted to be a graphic artist at the time. By the time I’d sorted through all my feelings and heartaches and rejections, I realized that I really wanted to be a writer. I’ve since facilitated 3 different groups through this book.

It’s not a quick and easy read that will instantly give you the button to push to make yourself rich and successful. It’s a difficult book. It requires work and thought. It requires you to dredge up really painful parts of your past, and sometimes that kind of work will make you sick. It will force you to quit sabotaging yourself, quit making excuses, and start doing things that you’re afraid of. In my case, I was afraid of putting myself out there as a writer. It took me many months to sort this out.

If you feel like you are blocked, or that you’re just not doing what you want to be doing, I highly recommend picking up this book. I also recommend trying to find people local to you who would commit to starting a group in person to go through it. Three of my groups were online. You can get away with a lot of cheating online. In-person groups will see through your excuses and, pardon my swearing, call you on your shit. My Artist’s Way tribe doesn’t let me get away with half-ass work anymore, because they know what I’m capable of and what I want to do. Sometimes, that’s even harder than just being a blocked creative.

the artists way by julia cameronSo if you’re still in the beginning phases and you’re still nervous about writing that first story, or you feel like you’ve plateaued in a writing career, pick up a copy of The Artist’s Way. Convince a friend to go through it with you. Say it’s a dumb experiment and it’s just for fun. Then see what breaks loose.

Happy writing!