My Top 5 Writing Craft Books

Top 5 Writing Craft Books

Top 5 Writing Craft Books, because who doesn’t live a good top 5 list?

I am hard at work on a middle grade novel set in Bermuda, and my graduate lecture for VCFA on The Alchemy of Radical Self-Belief, and it’s fun! And tough. And fun!

For my lecture, I’m reading a particularly eye-opening book. Although not a writing craft book, it has powerful info on how to be a high performer in any field. It involves something called “deliberate practice.” Check it out by clicking below:

Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

The List of Top 5 Writing Craft Books

Now that you have the bonus recommendation, right up front, here is my list of great writing craft books, in no particular order:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King

Straightforward and usable. Brings clarity to the revision process. Many aha! moments lie within these pages. Think you understand show don’t tell? Read this and you may be in for a surprise. Great stuff on leaving space for the reader to collaborate with the story.

What's Your Story? by Marion Dane Bauer

What’s Your Story by Marion Dane Bauer

Especially helpful when you are mulling your story over before getting it on paper or into the computer. Says it’s for kids, and it’s great for adults, too. Simplest and clearest description of plot and conflict I have ever seen.

The Plot Whispere by Martha Alderson

The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson

This is the most intuitive approach to plot structure I’ve found. Plus it includes the writer herself in the hero’s journey. Stories, Alderson believes, are about the writer going on their own hero’s journey. How else can we bring the reader along?

Reading Like a Wrier by Francine Prose


Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

How to take your favorite books and learn exactly how the author did a particular thing, then do it yourself in your own work. You can learn to write crowd scenes like Tolstoy, or Omniscient POV like Rowling.

Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins

Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors by Brandilyn Collins

When the writer feels what their characters are feeling, the whole story pops off the page and feels authentic. This book has so many great techniques for inside-out, method character development.

Hope this is helpful to all you writers out there! Have a great week!

Have a favorite writing craft book I didn’t mention? Comment below and let us know why you love your favorites.

Writing Tools: My Love-Hate Relationship With Scrivener

Scrivener Program's Interface Margaret Mayo McGlynn

What is Scrivener?

For those who are saying, “what the heck is ‘Scrivener?'” here’s what it is, in brief.

For those of you who are saying “Isn’t that what Bartelby was?” your English Lit teacher is smiling in heaven, or in the teacher’s lounge with the burned coffee and permanently stained carpet.

Scrivener is a program, very reasonably priced, I might add, that helps writers of all kinds organize their files however they like.

What’s Cool About Scrivener?

It has various kind of templates, for instance, one for novels. It has a template tailor-made for NaNoWriMo.

What’s NaNoWriMo?

If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, then click any one of my links herein. NaNoWriMo is a magical internet land that encourages anyone and everyone to buckle down and write the novel that is aching to be born straight from the head of Zeus and begin slouching toward Jerusalem. It is, in short, a wonder of the modern age.

What’s Cool About Scrivener: Take 2

But back to Scrivener. The program has all kinds of useful templates for writing projects, for research papers, for scripts of various stripes and flavors.

The beauty of it is that it helps you organize your book the way you probably think about your book, that is, in scenes, chapters, and parts. And it’s wildly customizable. You can put all kinds of metadata in there. You can tag chapters and scenes with neat codes, notes to self about them, the which you can search later, when your buzz has worn off. You can import entire webpage contents to your research folders. You can color code the crap out of your text with custom highlighting colors. There’s a template for characters, for places, and you can design your own templates.

I love being able to drag scenes from chapter to chapter, willy nilly. I love that each chapter gets its own little index card on which you can put its synopsis. Love, love, love all of this.

Here’s a picture of the interface:

Scrivener Interface, and yes, that is the prologue of my novel Guardian of the Chalice, as it stands today

What’s Sucky About Scrivener?

But the hate starts when I try to sync it with my iPad. It doesn’t yet have its own iPad app, and the folks at Literature and Latte, who designed scrivener, have been promising and promising that the app will be here, any second.

But it’s not here yet. Oh, this novelist is getting so tired of waiting for it. When they finally deliver said app, they might do well to name it ‘Godot.’ Because, damn!

Compile This!

And don’t get me started on the Compile feature. I don’t understand why it’s even in there. Too customizable, and in a way that makes no sense to little ole me. Say I just want to export my Scrivener file of my novel just to a simple Word doc. Oh, the bewildering options that come up when I click ‘Compile,’ none of which work the way I would anticipate. To me, it seems somehow easier to have Scrivener translate my novel into Sanskrit than just to output it with some simple formatting, a page break in between chapters, sequentially numbered chapters, a header with, oh, I don’t know, my name and my book’s title upon it. Woe, woe to Compile. Fie upon it!

I got started, but now I’m stopping. Because I’ve decided to do a fast on complaining to clear my psychic space, if you know what I mean. And this sister from New Jersey, she can do her some complaining! Oh it is a major vice of mine.

There’s the Rub

In any event, I love Scrivener’s computer self so much that I can’t give it up, even though I want open a can o whup ass on its mobile “features” and its “Compile” excrementiness. Am I in a shame spiral? Possibly. Send your dollars today.

Any-hoo, below is a post I placed upon the Literature and Latte forum in which they innocently asked for feedback on the Mac version. I don’t think they saw me coming, do you?

Do you use Scrivener to work on your writerly stuff? If not, what do you use?

Please do scroll down and tell me all about your travails, and the little moments of your process, won’t you?

Thanks for visiting my blog. Comments more than welcome, if that’s possible in this space-time continuum.


I have a love-hate with Scrivener, and here’s why:

Nothing else helps me organize and update my novel so well while I’m working on my laptop. But when I want to go mobile, oh then, dear reader, do I end up in a spot of difficulty.

Syncing with Simplenote doesn’t do it for me. The sorting files alphabetically thing would be great except I don’t want to inject extraneous chapter numbers in my chapter titles which I will then have to delete by hand in my final draft. And update manually when I change my order of chapters or add a new one. Over and over again.

I don’t like that when I rename a chapter or add a new one, I then have to go through the long checklist and make sure that I check the box for that new item when I sync. My world moves fast, and again, I wish there were a simple idiot-proof way to sync without all the time-consuming customizable stuff.

And I know this isn’t Scrivener’s fault, but I find that when I make changes to a Simplenote file in a browser, it doesn’t always transfer over to the same Simplenote file on my iPad.

Last night I was at my weekly writing class, and not once but twice I was not able to read the proper file, the most recent version, to my teacher, to whom I am paying a certain degree of cash in exchange for time. I found it to be an untenable situation.

My ideal scene is that the fine men and women of Literature and Latte really buckle down and get that gosh darned iPad app up and rocking. This year.

Or I may be looking for other options. Just sayin.’

And if you, lovely reader, have a bit of advice, an easy fix or even a medium difficult fix, which might solve my woes and result in smiles and relaxation on my part, oh, please do chime in!

Many thanks!

Margaret Mayo McGlynn
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Joined: Fri May 30, 2014 2:50 am
Location: Los Angeles, Ca
Platform: Mac


My Writing Process Blog Tour

Many thanks to the mellifluously funny and gifted writer Chelsey Monroe, a truly amusing gal I was lucky enough to meet at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, for tagging me in this hullaballoo. Please to enjoy her talk about her writing and its process here.

Now here’s my thang:
What am I working on? 
Young Adult Fantasy Novel Guardian of the Chalice. 
Here’s the logline: 
16-year old Avery Dickenson discovers the has magical powers and inherits a magical chalice that makes her the most powerful witch on the planet. A cabal of dark immortal magicians want to use her power, so they take her father hostage and steal him away to Rome. To get him back, Avery must sail to Europe with her friends and her hippie witch aunt, learning magical combat. But can Avery resist the ultimate temptation—to bring her dead mother back to life—in order to save her father and friends from the ultimate evil?
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
  • Two Kinds of Magic: A key conflict in my novel is between two different ways of doing magic—the Left Hand path, which derives power from causing pain and extracting energy from others, and the Right Hand path, in which strength comes from being in harmony with nature and ones true self.
  • The Eternal City: Rome used to be called the navel of the world in ancient times. Rome is the center of magic in my novel, which gives my work a DaVinci Code feel. Avery’s italian heritage and the Italian witchcraft she learns from her Aunt Nina are unusual and culturally rich motifs in my novel.
  • Time Travel: One of Avery’s key powers is traveling in time and space. So my novel has special fun with time travel, issues with paradoxes, and timelines across centuries that affect each other.
  • A Tiger in Your Tank: Oh, yes, and Avery can shape shift into a tiger, but only when she’s particularly angry.
  • Creepy Decaying Historical Bad Guys: My bad guys are real historical magicians who made themselves immortal in the past. Every 21 years they must renew their immortality by an especially brutal ceremony. But every once in a while a witch like Avery comes along, with so much power that if they can use her, they can make the immortality permanent. All previous attempts to do this have failed but they all believe this is the time it will work. As it gets closer and closer to the time of renewal, which is Midsummer Eve, the bad guys’ bodies start to fall apart a bit. It starts with peeling and cracking skin, and gets yuckier from there.
  • The Knights Templar: Oh, yeah, and wrapped up in all of this are the Knights Templar, and a conflict which stretches back to the Crusades and the Inquisition. 
  • Modern Goths: But also, Avery and her friends are Goth teenagers at a fancy prep school with normal teen issues like staying loyal to friends, getting good grades and trying to get into the college of their choice.
  • Team Neither! And since all of this is going on in this book, the first of a trilogy, it’s a darn good thing there are no vampires or werewolves in sight!
Why do I write what I do? 
  • Thank you, Harriet The Spy! Children’s books were my best and only friends in elementary school. I write books for tweens because I want to do that for someone else. 
  • Who are you? I really like challenges that come into play with Young Adult fiction. I’m fascinated by questions of identity. The process of choosing who we will become, what contribution we will make in the world, how we will use our strengths—I find all of that fascinating and mysterious. It’s such an important time in life. And yes, I think I’ll always be fourteen inside where it counts.
  • Burn, Witch, Burn! I was, for a time, a practicing pagan. There are so many different kinds of magical systems and pantheons and ways of practicing. I met people who worshipped the Hawaiian gods, the Norse Gods, the Faeries. I met people who practiced Kabala, too, and alchemy, and Freemasonry. I still love the idea of a spirituality connected to nature that balances masculine and feminine, that honors the earth. There’s a book called The Chalice and the Blade that most pagans have read, and it tells an alternative version of Western History with a feminist slant. It may not be great scholarship, but it’s a great idea.
How does my writing process work? 
  • I did Nanowrimo in 2012 and revised my novel for 2013 Nanowrimo.
  • Knowing I was going to do Nanowrimo, I came up with a rough outline.
  • I am an outliner, not a pantser.
  • During Nanowrimo I wrote for 45 minutes every day at lunch. Most days, that got me up above the minimum daily word count of 1667 words. If I got behind, I’d catch up on weekends. I just wrote like the wind, letting it all come out and not revising at all as I went. I still think that’s the best way to get stuff down on paper. Just go.
  • My novelist husband has this motto for writing: Make it crap; fix it later. It works.
  • I like writing in public, with lots of distractions, but I do turn on my White Noise app and plug in my earphones.
  • I can’t write with the TV on.
  • If I get stuck, I skip that chapter and go to something that happens later in the story.
  • I work on Scrivener, but please O Scrivener Literature and Latte Folk, My Kingdom for an iPad App!
  • Sometimes I procrastinate.
  • But usually I put the meat in the seat and write, no excuses.
Next on the Hit Parade:

Stay tuned for these wonderfully talented tagged writers, Posting on May 12, or thereabouts:

Back in the roaring eighties, Peter “Stoney” Emshwiller was the managing editor of six international magazines (including Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Magazine, Night Cry, and Gallery Magazine). Since then he’s had two science fiction Bantam Books novels published (The Host and its sequel, Short Blade), an original TV sitcom pilot produced, and numerous movie options taken out on his work by the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer. When he’s not writing, he’s acting — particularly as a voiceover artist. Yes, that’s Stoney you hear resonating mellifluously in radio ads, making silly voices in cartoons, and dying a thousand horrible deaths in video games. (Hey, it beats working for a living.)

Just What I Need: Revision and Self-Editing for Publication

Revising a novel is a lonely business. It gets overwhelming.

Last Friday I went to a reading at Skylight Books, a Los Feliz neighborhood gem, and in their sparse but well-curated Writing section, I found James Scott Bell‘s book, Revision and Self Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells.

In my experience, books on writing can be full of fluff, throat-clearing and nattering to beef up content that might fit into a half-hour PowerPoint presentation. This one, happily, has almost no non-nutritive filler. Mr. Bell’s tips start in the introduction—including a great little exercise on how to sharpen your sense of plot.

Books on writing sometimes contain only uninterrupted prose, paragraph upon paragraph with few bullet points, sidebars, or headings. This one isn’t like that. It’s got headings and bullet points aplenty, so you can read it front to back, or you can scan it for the bit you need right now.

And the prose is beautiful, with lots of varied sentence construction. I really appreciate that. If you can’t write great prose, please don’t try to teach me how to write.

I also love all of the examples from books and movies I already know. And, if you don’t know these examples, Mr. Bell lays out the plot or sets the scene so you will get it.

I was around page 24, and I already felt so grateful that I tweeted the author to thank him. He tweeted me right back. So this guy is also savvy about social networking. A definite plus.

This revision stuff scares me like Mrs. Brody is scared of Quint. There is much to do. I have to delete delete delete sections and stitch the remaining scenes back together in a way that doesn’t leave the manuscript all effed up like the skin of the Frankenstein monster. I can get into a downtrodden frame of mind about it. Mr. Bell’s book tells you up front that this dark mood will come. It gives you several techniques to help combat it, like a little post-it somewhere in your space that says ‘I can fix it.’

Yes, darnit! I can!

I think this book is going to be my best friend as I tromp all Hobbit-like through the revision marshes toward the distant burning mountain of Draft Four.

Hooray, I say!