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Three Fantastic New Books on Writing (And a Question About Whether We Need One More)
Hey, it’s Jennie Nash. You may have heard me the last three summers as a guest host of the #amwriting podcast. I’m joining now as a regular contributor, where I will be writing about the creative process and how to take your writing seriously, and interviewing people who have interesting things to say about these ideas. These are the topics I have spent my career thinking about and teaching others about as a book coach and as the founder and CEO of Author Accelerator, which I know you know about because we are a long-time sponsor of the show. Thanks to Jess, KJ, and Sarina for inviting me to their party.
Three Fantastic New Books on Writing (And a Question About Whether We Need One More)
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I just finished reading three fantastic new books on writing. I want to share with you where I first heard about them (because it’s always instructive to think about why you buy the books you buy); what I love about these books (because it might help you to know how a book coaches’ brain works); and why you might want to read them, too (because I know you want all the writing books.)
The book: Everybody Writes: Your New and Improved Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley. Handley runs a marketing training and education company that trains marketers worldwide through its online and in-person education programs.
The reason I bought it: I follow Ann Handley’s newsletter, Total Annarchy, which is written for people who write marketing content for businesses. It’s a marketing newsletter, but she focuses relentlessly on words and good writing. She is hilarious and authoritative and she knows her stuff. If you have any concerns at all about ChatGPT taking over the world, she will remind you very specifically what humans can do that computers can’t. She recently revised and reissued Everybody Writes, so I grabbed it – because I wanted to see how she organized it; I wanted to learn from her content; I suspected I would want to recommend it; and I wanted to support her work that I have been consuming for free. (By the way, this is a reason writers need to have a newsletter; the people who love your voice and your stories, and your vibe will follow you and when you have a book to sell them, they will buy it.)
What I loved about it: The information in the book is similar to the newsletter, but organized into a clear progression.
Great quotes from Everybody Writes:
“The truth is this: writing well is part habit, part knowledge of some fundamental rules, and part giving a damn.”
“Empathy—like writing—isn't a gift. It's a discipline. It takes some intentional effort and diligence to develop enormous empathy so that you can apply it to your writing.”
“Because at some point, you do have to rush your own art. Otherwise, your art sits on its butt on the couch eating chips and salsa.”
Why you should get it: Writers write more than books. We have to write sales emails, sales copy, marketing copy, speeches, and newsletters, among other things. It’s popular for writers to say they hate marketing, but marketing is storytelling, it’s writing, it’s connecting with people – in other words, it’s doing the same thing we are doing when we are writing books, just in a different format. Handley’s teaching will give you confidence in this kind of content writing and will help you level up your skills.
Have you read this book? Do you love Ann Handley’s newsletter? Share what you love in the comments.
The book: Gentle Writing Advice: How to Be a Writer Without Destroying Yourself by Chuck Wendig. Wendig is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Wanderers series, Star Wars: Aftermath, and many other sci fi/fantasy books, comics, and TV shows, and he writes the blog terribleminds.
The reason I bought it: I saw it on a list somewhere I can’t remember. I use to see things from Chuck Wendig on Twitter back in the days when I loved Twitter, and he was outrageous and brilliant – a lover of crazy metaphors, a believer in the power of good stories, and a champion of writers. He has some of the best teachings on worldbuilding that you will find anywhere. His posts on cancel culture, mean reviewers, and the publishing industry are insightful and scathing. He has opinions, and they are always fun to read. When I read the title of this book, I was brought up short. GENTLE advice? From this crazy dude? Something incongruous was going on there, which intrigued me. Curiosity about a concept, a structure, a story, or a person is one of the reliable reasons I will buy a book.
What I loved about it. The book was borne of a revelation during the pandemic. It IS gentle advice. It’s a beautiful book from someone who cares deeply about story. I especially loved the first half. The second half is a lot of craft lessons and I’m all for craft lessons, but I wished he had stayed talking about the big ideas about writing because those were so good and so unusual for a writing book.
Great quotes from Gentle Writing Advice:
“Thus, writing advice often ends up being fairly prescriptive–meaning, the advice is there to impose law and order onto the chaotic act of writing and storytelling and art-making. Creativity is a lawless land, and art/writing is the act of refining that chaos into order, and so it makes sense in a way that such advice is frequently about the imposition of structure.”
“Viewing publishing as a reward for writing is like viewing fighting a dragon as a reward for getting through a dungeon. Publishing is the boss battle in this video game, okay?”
“Storytelling to me is an act of love and an exhortation against loneliness. Writing and storytelling are a call-and-response to the world. It’s you saying, I love this, I care about this, I need to talk about this, and I hope you love it, too.”
Have you read this book? Do you love Chuck Wendig’s writing on writing? Share what you love in the comments.
The book: Write a Must-Read: Craft a Book that Changes Lives – Including Your Own by AJ Harper. Harper is an editor and publishing strategist. She is the writing partner to business author, Mike Michalowicz. Together they’ve written six books, including Profit First and The Pumpkin Plan
The reason I bought it: At Author Accelerator, we have a community of book coaches who are constantly talking about the publishing industry, thinking about how to best help writers, and sharing tips, tricks, and insights. Recently, someone mentioned this book and then a bunch of other people jumped in to say, “It’s so good. It’s destined to be a classic.” Based on this strong word of mouth, I grabbed the book. Word of mouth is the #1 reason I buy books and I usually decide instantly to do it; there is no debate. That’s what happened here. I didn’t even read the jacket copy; I just bought it.
What I loved about it:
It’s a system for writing a nonfiction book. I also wrote one – Blueprint for a Nonfiction Book: Plan and Pitch Your Big Idea – but we need more.
Harper’s main point is about centering the reader. The conceit is the idea of writing a “top three book” – which means a book that would be one of the top three books your ideal reader recommends. I adore this way of looking at a project. It is not focused on sales or agents or book deals. It is focused on what actually matters and what we can control, which is impacting readers.
There is an insightful section on writing a Healing Draft – what a great concept! (It’s a draft you write of a painful story if you are not ready yet to write it for other people.)
Harper’s take on trolls (the things that keep us from writing) involves those orange-haired troll dolls and is utterly charming.
There’s a fantastic rubric for editing nonfiction books.
Why you should get it
If you are writing nonfiction of any kind and want to get smarter about doing that work, this book will make you smarter.
Great quotes from Write a Must-Read Book:
“Sometimes I wonder why so many book coaches and programs tout speed as a benefit of working with them. I don’t have the answers, but I suspect it is in part due to a belief that you can’t teach people how to be great writers, so why not make the process easy and fast? From a business standpoint, I guess that makes sense. The problem – the really big problem – is that approach also breaks hearts.”
“I want you to think of the close of your book as a Call to Greatness. What can they do now that they couldn’t do before? Call on them to be more, do better, think bigger.”
“Reader First. Not shoulds. Not templates. Not other authors’ ideas. Reader. First.”
Have you read this book? Do you love AJ Harper’s book on writing a nonfiction book? Share what you love in the comments.
A Question About Whether We Need One More Book About Writing
These three writing books came into my life during a time when I was contemplating writing a writing book of my own, and when I first saw them I thought, Ah, three fantastic new books about writing! This is a sign from the universe that we don’t need one more book about writing.
Sometimes things happen like this which make us think we have nothing to say, nothing to add to the mix. And sometimes that’s the end of the idea. It fizzles and dies. We don’t write the book we thought we wanted to write.
But other times, the idea won’t let you go regardless of what the universe says.
It keeps coming around into your brain, knocking about, making itself known, and making a lot of noise in there.
In this case, the only thing to do is turn towards it with curiosity to see what’s there, and what it means, and what you might do with it.
This idea won’t stop making noise. I’m going to get curious about it and next month, I’ll show you the steps I went through to satisfy that curiosity in case you have a book idea knocking around in your mind, too.
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