Book Review: Writers on Writing Volume 3

writers on writing volume 3 book cover

Writers on Writing, Volume 3
(Crystal Lake Publishing)
Review disclaimer: I purchased a copy of this book 

I have enjoyed the first two volumes of the Writers on Writing series from Crystal Lake Publishing so I jumped at the chance to pre-order the third and most recent volume, which is a worthwhile investment for any writer. The essays are a mixture of the business side of writing as well as craft and they all feature topics that most writers would do well to read about. Whether you struggle with finding time to write or with self-confidence and putting yourself out there as an author or indeed how to create three-dimensional characters, this series has you covered.

Volume 3 features essays by such authors as Jonathan Janz, Hal Bodner, and Kealan Patrick Burke to name a few. It covers effective characterization, the art of being a book reviewer, and how to inject your fiction with more raw vulnerability and emotions without being, you know, melodramatic. Each of the pieces were engaging, well-written, and easy-to-follow as with the previous two volumes, so if you’re a writer striving to improve, consider this series an investment.

“Creating Effective Characters”
The first piece of Volume 3 kicks off with Hal Bodner who discusses the problems new writers face when learning how to create three-dimensional characters. They get a lot of non-specific comments that make writing seem like an airy fairy process and can often be quite frustrating when they’re trying to unlock their creative process.

He cleverly demonstrates effective characterization by playing around with the personal anecdote format. A particularly useful bit of advice is for writers not to rely on physical descriptions to make a character come alive. Try to avoid bogging the reader down with the protagonist’s life story all at once–we need only enough detail to create a basic mental sketch of who the character is.

“Fictional Emotions; Emotional Fictions”
James Everington talks about how to emotionally engage readers. One technique is to give readers a character whose headspace they can share, something frequently used in YA and children’s literature. Atmosphere is another important factor, particularly in horror. It’s vital to establish a sense of dread that permeates throughout the work but the trick is this requires using ordinary and familiar places. He does a good job breaking down the other methods in his piece and highlights all of them with good examples.

“Home Sweet Home” by Ben Eads
The next piece by Ben Eads focuses on how to find markets to submit to.  First, he breaks down the difference between paying markets and “for-the-love” (exposure). He then discusses small presses and the importance of doing one’s homework. Google is your friend, but also talk to others on forums, social media, but also in-person events to find out about their experiences with publishers before you submit.

Ben’s piece also emphasizes the importance of finding good beta readers. Getting professional feedback on one’s work is key. Working with editors is a huge investment, so while he recommends it, he also cautions writers that it’s not for the faint of heart.

Kealan Patrick Burke‘s essay is one that I was looking forward to as soon as I saw that he was going to be part of this volume. His piece focuses on the identity that we cultivate as writers and how that can sometimes go off the rails. He discusses his own experiences and how he wasn’t feeling quite so writerly in the wake of a divorce as well as having to re-integrate himself into the workforce.

“And every day that passed without putting pen to paper, a little piece of me died.”

He’s had to struggle with day jobs, too, and understands how much they drain our energy so there’s little left for writing. What I took away from his piece was that he put in the work and got to where he is with work, plain and simple. He worked harder than he thought he could. Obstacles will always exist, but a true writer at heart will work to find a way past them. Finally, if we want our writing to happen, we must fight to make it so.

“How About Them Free Books, Eh?” by Nerine Dorman
South African author and editor Nerine Dorman talks about being a book reviewer. First, she explains the perils of book piracy and the advantages of free resources such as Project Gutenberg. Next, she talks about word of mouth as the most effective way to promote books. Reviewers are one of the best kinds of folks who generate word of mouth.

In the next part of her essay, she outlines how to become a reviewer, including a very useful breakdown from start to finish that covers blog platforms (i.e. WordPress), how to maximize visibility of book reviews through social media, and protocol for tricky situations a reviewer may encounter. I was also glad to see she included some do’s and don’ts of reviews.

“Treating Fiction like a Relationship” by Jonathan Janz
Probably the piece I anticipated reading most was from Jonathan Janz, and I’m happy to say it lived up to my expectations. Janz focuses on the importance of vulnerability for a writer and how we all put up walls because no one likes to feel hurt or foolish. Writing is a tough business and many quit. Although it feels safer to stop being open, to withdraw and to put up walls when things get difficult, we’re also depriving ourselves of positive experiences.

He advises writers to keep in mind that most writing advice out there centers on what NOT to do and sometimes it’s a good idea to stop letting that be a barrier, because the downside of rules is that they can stifle us and keep us from being authentic. Authors must dig deeper to convey true emotion and make the reader cry with your characters or get angry with them or celebrate with them after a hard-fought battle.