Many of us spent 2020 imagining the worst. The virus was with us for the entire year. Lurking around every corner. In every bar and restaurant and public place. It was hiding in our communities, neighborhoods, and homes. We were afraid to spend time with family and friends. The news was loaded with frightening stories about the pandemic and terrifying visuals of hospital ICUs. It was a year-long horror flick. Except it wasn’t fiction. It was all too real. And we were plenty scared. (Still are, most of us, with good reason.)
But now there is a very tiny light at the end of a very long tunnel. A vaccine. Many have received it, and many more will as the year marches on. And while the tragedy and bad news aren’t over, allow me to suggest that we put our fertile imaginations to better use this year. Let’s make 2021 the year to indulge our creativity. Write that short story, or poem, or article that has been percolating in the back of your brain. Start the novel or podcast or play you’ve been wanting to produce. Begin writing a diary or journal. Scribble to your heart’s content. This is your moment.
Late last year, I moved into a new apartment, and I rediscovered my stash of how-to-write books. The following are some of my favorites that may help you make 2021 your year to create.
Anyone — and I really mean anyone — can write a publishable flash fiction story. There are thousands of online markets across the genres, all hungry for good micro fiction. If you’ve always wanted to be published, there might be no better way than to take a crack at a quickie. I highly recommend Flash! by John Dufresne to get you started and, better yet, finished. Dufresne offers smart advice and many examples to illustrate his points. You can also check out one of the Norton anthologies that published a flash fiction story of my own: New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction. You’ll be a flash fictionist in no time with these two books.
A friend gave me Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark a few years ago, and I’ve read it and revisited it occasionally since then. It’s a great little toolbox for anyone who wants to write well, regardless of what you’re writing, filled with simple tricks of the trade that will help make your writing look and feel professional no matter what level of writer you are. The book comes with some excellent exercises and examples to help you hone your craft.
Screenplay anyone? Break out Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. This book is not only instructional but filled with funny anecdotes. It will give you a few laughs along with the basics of how to craft a coherent screenplay. And at a mere 194 pages, it’s a quick read. So quick, I’ll recommend that you pair it with a classic, Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting.
Looking to write the great American novel? Or just any damn novel? It might astonish some people to know that one of the better how-to books on the market is On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. This book is not about horror writing, but rather, how to write well-written, strongly built, finely crafted stories regardless of genre. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a straight-forward, no-nonsense, surprisingly inspirational book that will help you get the words out.
What is a writer without a little navel-gazing? Say no more. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, is an absolute treasure. Hard to believe there is a 30th anniversary edition of this book. Where has the time gone? This is an old favorite of just about every writer I know. Do yourself a favor and add it to your reading list. No matter what you want to write, this book will motivate you to create your masterpiece.
I have many more favorites, so maybe I’ll dedicate another blog to this topic soon. But don’t wait for me. If you have a favorite writing book of your own, let me know about it. Go pluck it off the shelf. Blow the dust off the pages. Put it to work. Let’s kickoff “The Year of Imagination” together.
“I don’t understand the process of imagination, though I know that I am very much at its mercy.”Joseph Heller
“It all begins with fucking around and intuition and without any idea of what you’re doing.”Allen Ginsberg
A nod of thanks to KQED.org for the lead image in this blog.