I can’t say that I’ve ever noticed Writer’s Digest Yearbook on the shelves of my local Chapter’s store before but when I was browsing the other day I found their fall edition called Writer’s Workbook. It has a variety of information, tips, and exercises that could prove invaluable to the aspiring writer. (You’ll have to keep reading and see if my writing is improving as I work my way through this.) In addition to more than 100 pages of solid ideas and workshops it is running a short story contest with a prize of $3000. plus a trip to their annual Writer’s Digest Conference (2015).
It starts off with very practical tips that ought to be obvious but may not come to mind as our day to day work sometimes gives us tunnel vision or at least deserve reiterating to help you stay on task. Some may seem a bit contradictory (such as “imagine that the Internet has glass around it like a fire extinguisher . . . have some mindless activity at hand”) and others, a little surprising (like “be ritualistic and superstitious”) but some are novel (like “fill your workspace with art and objects that make you think of your story”). Many of the tips are very encouraging (“don’t beat yourself up”, “cut yourself some slack”, and “don’t feel guilty”). My favourite is “enjoy your work”.
There is a lot of advice about planning and setting goals that are achievable. A whole section on knowing yourself and your setting is, I think, extremely valuable. I’ve read it more than once and will probably refer to it many more times. The same goes for the section on grammar, syntax and editing. Lots of worthwhile rules that will give your work a polish that will set it apart.
One of the elements of writing that really struck a chord with me was timing. Their first question is, “Does your story start at the right moment?” In a number of books I’ve read recently, I found I was really gripped by the story’s prologue or first chapter because they didn’t really start at the start. A perfect example is A House In The Sky which began with a brief review of the 15 months Amanda Lindhout and her photographer were held captive in a variety of houses by a dozen teenaged terrorists, the isolation, the hope, the fear, all told with economy and detachment. Sometimes, the choice is just arbitrary about where to begin your story but other times it can be pivotal in determining the success or failure of your ability to grab the audience.
Book clubs can make or break the success of your book be it novel or true. The chapter about how to appeal to book clubs could be the most important section of this handy tutorial. Many novels are including book club discussion questions at the end of the story. You want to give club members something to talk about. If you don’t publish them within your book, put them on a page on your website — give readers “a chance to give an opinion, perhaps share a memory.” Give them “a little something extra”. They point out that this can be something new or unusual or, conversely, something well known and beloved.
Lots of ideas about solving plot and character issues are included along with solid advice about humour, what works, what doesn’t, its dependence on context and what to avoid. This is an excellent resource for emergent writers who want to become published authors. I’m certain I’ll be looking for more Writer’s Digest publications.