Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tools in the Writer's Toolbox


My husband is the ultimate handyman. Seriously, this man can fix anything. He strolls in with his handy little toolbox, fixes the problem, then moves on. It's one of the many things I love about him.

With writing, I'm grateful for all the tools at our disposal. How-to books, writer and agent blogs, Twitter, search engines. Austen and Hemingway were not quite as lucky. These tools help me a great deal, and I'm grateful for them.

I recently finished reading Hunger Games. I know, I know, everyone's read it but me. It was an amazing book, and when I finished, I felt so...inadequate. Then I remembered that great novels are one more tool in my toolbox. I paid attention to what worked. Why did I care so much about the main character? How did Suzanne Collins get someone like me, who never reads this genre, to love her book? Simply put, it's great writing.

By paying attention and absorbing all the greatness out there, we writers can be our own handymen. We can spot weaknesses and fix them. We can toss aside tools that don't work for us, and move on to the tools that are a perfect fit.

What tools do you use with your writing? And do you ever feel horribly inadequate after reading a great book?

48 comments:

  1. Actually you're not the only one Julie! I haven't read Hunger Games yet. But it's on my list. We DO have great tools at our disposal, including a great writer's community!

    I'm also soaking in the greatness around me...and feeling inadequate sometimes. ;)

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  2. I haven't read Hunger Games yet either. :) It's on my TBR list.
    But maybe I shouldn't because then I'll feel bad about my writing. LOL

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  3. FINALLY! I'm so glad you read it and liked it! On to Catching Fire?? :) I know what you mean, when I read the Harry Potter series, I put off writing for like 6 months. I kept thinking, 'I can never do that.' I just know I have to strive to be the best that I can be.

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  4. I think reading other books in our genre is one of the tools we should keep in our box. It teaches us so much and keeps us up on what's hot in the genre. Some of my other favorite tools are dog-eared writing books and of course Google!

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  5. OMG YOU JUST READ IT?! i am actually a little jealous that you got to experience the wonder that is HG for the first time.

    *dramatic, wistful sigh*

    hehe

    but you're so right, julie. what an excellent reminder.

    thanks!!

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  6. I haven't read it either (yet!) There are times after reading great books or watching awesome movies that I'm strike by their genius and then think I can't do that. Then I think, why the heck not? And get back to work. :)

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  7. First, your husband is my husband's twin! Don't you love handymen?? and yes, every book I read makes me feel that way and I haven't even heard of that book!!

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  8. Great post, Julie. I totally know what you mean. For me it was reading The Book Thief when I felt like I could never write again. Thankfully it didn't last very long. Then I tried to emulate the Book Thief and reinvent my WIP with an omniscient 1st person voice. But just as that narrator was the perfect choice for that book, I realized that was so not the right choice for mine. The things we writers do sometimes... :)

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  9. This is a terrific post, Julie. I actually use books just like you said, as a tool to help my own writing. It's how I learn.

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  10. Thanks for your comments everyone. It's nice to know we're all in the same boat!

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  11. yes- I always feel inadequate after Melina Marchetta and Jaclyn Moriarty - and yeah, The Hunger games! Sooo good = very intimidating...

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  12. Julie, I only read Hunger Games about 2 months ago myself. Isn't it amazing? I was worried that the second book wasn't going to be as good. About halfway through it, I realized it was equally good, if not even better. You're going to love it! I also just finished Incarceron and it made me feel totally inadequate. I just like soaking it all up, though :)

    Marissa

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  13. Nomes, I haven't read anything by either of those authors. I love learning about new stuff to read.

    Marissa, that's good to know about the second book in the series. I always worry that the sequel will disappoint.

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  14. Horribly inadequate to say the least! I do try to pay attention, but with the best writing, it sucks you in and just is. Hard to copy that. :)

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  15. Janet, it is hard to copy it. I guess we can just do what Lisa says, and do our own best work!

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  16. I haven't read the Hunger Games either! More people haven't read it than I thought.

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  17. Anita, and here I thought I was the only one left on the planet!

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  18. Hi Julie -
    Thanks so much for checking out my blog and following it. It may not be everybody's cup of tea, but I think I'm a decent writer. My wife says so! Just kidding, she's not really a fan of my stuff, either. lol!
    Thanks again - Matt

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  19. Matt, maybe your wife is a secret fan! It was a pleasure stopping by your blog.

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  20. ...loved the post, Julie. I've come to realize over time that despite the many workshops, conferences and the like, which are readily available on a whim's notice, the best instruction I've encountered has been with my face buried in a novel...enjoying and learning. And yes, Hunger Games is fantastic, as is Catching Fire.

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog:)

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  21. Okay, so I admit, I have been resisting even putting Hunger Games on my Goodreads queue. But I will promptly go put it on there, just b/c Julie says it's another tool for the toolbox!

    Hey, I left you an award on my blog! Enjoy!

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  22. Elliiot, you're so right about burying our faces in novels. Plus, it's what we love! Nice to know Catching Fire is good. I'll for sure read that one.

    Cynthia, you are the sweetest! Hunger Games might not be in your genre, just like it wasn't in mine. But still, a good book is a good book. And thanks for the award!

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  23. I do feel inadequate when I read something really good...sometimes. And then sometimes I think "I'm not that far off."

    I also view a good book as a great tool. Some of the tools I use: Reference type books (from Thesaurus to Abnormal Psyc to maps), Internet (info and other blogs, etc.), friends who are professionals in a field of interest, my own work/life history, TV/Movies/Books/music, Library/book store, volunteer projects... You get the point. The world around us is our second greatest tool. The first is our imagination.

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  24. I find reading other books in my genre (chidren's books) helps a lot. And I absolutely do feel inadequate when I read a great book and think my goodness, how did they come up with that?!

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  25. Nicole, very well put! We've trained ourselves to be on the lookout for good stuff.

    Olive, I do the same thing. I think, "That was genius! How did they think of that!"

    Thanks for stopping by.

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  26. LOL - I always feel inadequate. :-)

    I think the greatest teacher for writers is literature. The second greatest is a group of critique partners. I've got a little group I trust to speak to me frankly - and I do the same for them.

    We have to be willing to share our work (and listen to feedback) to improve. No one starts out writing to their potential. We have to know that there is always room for growth, and to surround ourselves with like-minded writers, as well as explore the genres that contrast with ours. (It makes the strengthes and weaknesses in our own genre stand out.)

    Well, that's what I do, anyhow!

    Best to you, Julie. :-)

    - Corra

    The Victorian Heroine

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  27. Corra, "always room for growth" is so true!

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  28. Um...I haven't read The Hunger Games yet. I know, I know! Everyone says it's fantastic, and I've been meaning to, but...I haven't gotten around to it yet. Guess I better get on it.

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  29. I haven't read the book yet either. My daughter just finished and loved it. I've gotten on a paranormal kick and can't seem to move away.

    As far as feeling inadequate, the answer is yes, but I try not to think too much. If so, self-doubt will suffocate me.

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  30. Linda, I was the same way. But I'm glad I read it!

    J. Kaye, you're so right. If I dwell on it too much, I'll lose any small amount of confidence I have!

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  31. Julie,
    Thanks for the book recommendation.

    You shouldn't feel inadequate after reading a book by a bestselling or respected or established author. You should feel inspired.

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  32. Hi Julie - I just popped in after finding you on Tory's website. I am currently reading the Hunger Games and am also very impressed so far. Actually, the past few YA books I've read have just blown me away (Before I Fall haunted me for days after I finished it). I agree with you that reading good books is a benefit for us as writers. Reading a beautifully written line or paragraph is so satisfying and with each one we come across, we add a bit of knowledge to our own toolbox as well. Great site by the way!

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  33. Hey Julie! I felt exactly the same way after reading Hunger Games. And then it inspired me. I started to pick it apart, trying to figure out how SC did it. And what she didn't do (the mistakes I make in my own writing.) It was really, really an eye opening experience!

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  34. Notes, you're so right. I was in a funk, but then realized I should learn from the masters!

    Lindsay, I need to read Before I Fall. I've heard good things about that one too.

    Lydia, that was my experience too. So much still to learn, but at least we're having fun along the way!

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  35. I still haven't read it! But I do own it, and it's getting close to the top of the list.

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  36. Writing Nut, at least you have it so you're ready! I hope you enjoy the book.

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  37. I haven't read this book either, but will definitely check it out. I love reading a great novel, something well written and engrossing, drawing me right in. It's inspiring to see the capability we have as writers, the ability to move people with our words, when reading others' stories.

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  38. And I thought I was the last person to read that book! I felt sooooo inadequate after reading it. Every word counted. It had layers. Suspense. I'm at a loss for words (which is bad because I'm a writer). Reading is my toolbox. I learn so much.

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  39. Theresa, you're right, it had layers. Something for me to keep in mind!

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  40. Joanne, great novels are such a gift. I love sticking my nose in a book, but now I do so with a writer's eye!

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  41. You always have the best analogies! BTW, don't worry, you're not the last person on Earth to read The Hunger Games. I own books 1 & 2 and still need to read them. I know, I have to get with the program. :) After this post, I think I'll have to put them on the top of my to-be-read pile.

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  42. Amy, you've been a little busy lately with, you know, publishing a BOOK!

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  43. I totally agree--I don't know what I'd do without the unlimited resources the internet provides.

    And here's to handyman husbands! I've got one of those too. :)

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  44. I own Hunger Games, but haven't read it yet.

    I have a blog award for you.

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  45. Kristin, you're so right. Remember having to go to the library for every piece of information? My kids just can't believe it.

    Medeia, you're so sweet! Thanks, I'll go check it out.

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  46. It's so great that you described a novel as a tool in your toolbox. I've never thought about it like that, but it's so true. Although I write romance, I love reading thrillers and many other types of fiction. Some characters in thrillers are absolutely riveting and I admire the writers who can create them, especially if the character is actually a little underwritten - makes it more intriguing. Thanks for this new approach to tuck into my toolkit.

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  47. Leigh, it's my pleasure. I usually don't read outside my genre, but I've realized it's useful and fun to do so!

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