Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Progressive Book Club: Back at last!
Our Progressive Book Club has been on hiatus since summer while our fearless leader, M. L. Swift, dealt with life.  Now we're back, with a new format!

I have chosen to continue to use the PBC as a place to talk about writing books, and this month I'm featuring the book I'm currently reading (I"m not done with it, and indeed it's the sort of book you mark and return to while writing and editing).  With a warning that this one's for the adult writers, I present:
The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience, by Chuck Wendig.
Published by Writers Digest books, 2013.  278 pages.

Note: this is a discussion, not a review.  I may review the book when I finish it, but for now, I'm just going to talk about it.  Though that may be a distinction without a difference.


Half instruction manual and half inspiration, the book follows Wendig's famous (well, to those of us who follow his blog) model of lists of 25.  There are 32 lists of 25 things you should know about different aspects of writing, which by the way is only 800 tips, plus one in the intro.  I am not sure if there are another 200 tips in the Coda, or if Wendig cheated us.  I'll be taking that up with him.

Wendig divides the book into three larger parts: The Fundamentals, The Craft, and Publishing & Earning Your Audience.   I've been working my way through the first two, reading bits, marking them, and running back to my MS to put them into action.  I'm going to give you a few of my favorite bits, sort of randomly and with my own comments when I feel like it (reading Wendig can cause randomness.  Also potty-mouth).

Quit quitting.  That one doesn't need any discussion.  As he says elsewhere, writers write.

Nobody sees themselves as a supporting character.  I liked this, because it was a reminder that even the minor characters are still people.  Keep in mind that they have a story and a life, even when it doesn't enter into the story you're telling.  Keeping this in mind might help me make all my characters more real.

The worst crime you can commit is to create a boring protagonist.   Wendig follows that one up a few paragraphs later with, "I don't care if he's a ninja, a lawyer, a detective, a doctor, a boat captain, or Captain Doctor Detective Stormshadow, Esquire--I want to know he is in some way capable."  Then he reminds us that "capable" and even "remarkable" aren't the same as "perfect."  Okay, I especially like this one because I suddenly really want to write a story about Captain Doctor Detective Stormshadow, Esquire.

And a final bit, that makes a lot of sense to me where I am in my editing right now, about scenes:
Every scene's existence must be justified.

On the one hand, this list approach (each header gets one 5-10 line paragraph to explicate it) is limited.  But for me, quite frankly, that's part of what makes it work.  Little, highly concentrated, bits of advice that I can take in and cope with and mark and come back to.  I have a short attention span these days.  Or a limited memory. Whatever; it works for me.

Oh, and the thing's funny.  I keep reading bits to my boys, just because I want to share the laugh.

Is that a review after all?  I can't do that!  I haven't finished the book!

Just in case this really was a review:
Full Disclosure: I purchased The Kick-Ass Writer at my own expense, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


  1. Several years ago (year before last, I think) I made my first, and probably only, at writing a book of fiction. I think I violated everyone of these rules except the first. And THEN I quit LOL! I have since read many books-- similar to this-- that offer better how-tos. Ahhh. If I ever go that route again, and even in creative nonfiction, I hope to keep these better in mind. Thanks for sharing his book. I've seen his name out there on covers but have never read one....yet.

    1. Julie, breaking all the rules is, of course, fine, except maybe the one about being boring :) Even that is fine in the requisite Crappy First Draft. But not everyone has to write fiction. I apparently have to, because I've been doing it since I was very small, whether or not I should. But I like creative non-fiction a lot, so carry on!

  2. I like reading Chuck's blog and I'm assuming his book is very similar. What I like is the way he both inspires you to keep writing while at the same time dropping tips and hints to help make you better. His 'interesting' use of questionable (and sometimes downright rude) words and phrases make it fun to read as least for us adults eh?

    1. His book is slightly cleaner than the blog (he claims in his blog that a big chunk of the editing he did was removing the F-word. But that word is boring. It's the way Chuck combines unexpected things that inspires me to be a better cusser (did you see the Random Profanity Generator? I'm thinking of making a "clean" version of that to come up with creative oaths for my protag in Death By Ice Cream, since the consensus is that minimal swearing is the way to go there).

      I am trying to figure out the best way to make those little bits of advice come to the fore when needed. I may end up copying relevant snippets, printing them out, and taping them to the wall around my computer. Or to the monitor. A few might need to go right in the middle of the monitor.

  3. Rebecca,

    I thought this a wonderful post on your book! And quite appropriate to the genre of the piece...a lot of times, that's how I go through a how-to; read a little, mark it, use it, refer to it.

    And we do tend to gravitate to the headlines...they stick with us. Yeah, a few details do as well (like his short follow up paragraph) and then we're ready to move on. I remember the "headlines" from Bird by Bird much better than the details, which is why I put together that video of quotes. I like and apply them much better.

    So glad the club is back, too. Today, however, was one of those busy as heck offline days, where I only had time to check in and go. I've a lot of those in the near future! Plus, a lot of other blogging is going to have to take a back seat. But not the club. I still like to read and have a lot of that planned, so of course it will be good to talk about...especially glad we all can have different books, now. Makes it so much more interesting. I really loved your account! Thanks. Your selection of a craft book was a unique and welcome addition this month. :D

    M.L. Swift, Writer

    1. Mike, I'm just glad you could come up for air enough to help us get going again! I'm going to stick to writing-related books for the PBC, I think, just because I do reviews a lot on this blog, and I want something to set the PBC posts apart a bit. Plus, reading about the craft (I may include some fiction about writers, too, just for fun) helps keep me thinking about what I'm doing.

    2. Good! You know, I have TONS of writing books—TONS, I tell you—but for the past decade or two it seems I've had my head buried in textbooks. How-to's and the like. I'm always soaking up info (and love to), but I'm ready for a change...memoirs and fiction.

      I have a series, "Writing Great Fiction," of five books that I'd eventually like to get to. Also, "On Writing" (King)...nope, haven't read that yet, and a few other notable titles.

      You do do a lot of reviews on this blog, which is a perfect fit for The Ninja Librarian you are! I follow your blog and admit I don't comment when it's a review, because usually it's kid lit. But you write them well. You're a conscientious reviewer, which makes you an excellent member of the PBC. I do so appreciate your participation!

      And fiction about writers...would love to see that. Thanks again.

    3. Thank you for the kind words about my reviews. I do try to review adult books weekly as well (but it's harder--they are generally longer!), many of them mysteries as that's another area where I'm writing.

      I'm thinking already about next month's book. I have some ideas, and will try to be beforehanded (is that a word? I think I need some more sleep) about deciding and posting.

  4. I read Chuck's blog as you know, but I've resisted a book of his lists. I did copy out his checklist to make great characters the other day, and promptly did myself a guide to Big Pete and the Swede, adding in what they had in their wardrobe, their dog or other pet if they could have one, and a couple of other things.

    I was also thinking of adapting his cussing list... maybe we should compare when we're done!

    1. The lists on his blog are at least as good as the book(s), but I thought it would be nice to have it on paper, and I am marking the book up as I go, so probably worth the ten bucks or so.

      Definitely let's work together on the cussing list :)

  5. If any of you are still watching this one. . . I've been reading at this some more, and I have to say: buy it for the chapter on Revising, if nothing else (or go hunt up all Wendig's blog posts on the topic). And I'm happy to see he's as sold as I am on the essential necessity (yeah, I know!) of reading your work aloud.


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