Stimulating Ideas

Here are some responses to questions people sometimes ask me, as well as resources that I have found helpful or simply enjoyable. -Bill

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Recommendations for writing and getting your book published

Over the years, many people have asked me for advice on writing and publishing. I deliberately did not read any writing books until I had written about five books, because I wanted to learn through doing and not be too influenced by others' ideas. But after writing 16 books, I can tell you that it can definitely save you time, sweat and tears to read the best writing and publishing books out there. I have read most of them and here is my set of select recommendations with comments. - Bill O'Hanlon

Bradbury, Ray. Zen in the Art of Writing. This is a collection of essays about connecting with your own passion and voice in your writing. Bradbury has his own unique way of writing. He is a deviant who is comfortable with his deviance and will help you become comfortable with your own. He also gave my favorite piece of advice to a young writer who asked him how he could get in the mood to write, since he often didn't feel inspired. Bradbury replied, "Sit down and write, son. It'll take care of all those moods you are having."

Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Boston: Shambala, 1986). This is the book to read if you are constricted in your writing process or are avoiding sitting down and writing. Since I was already writing when I read this, I didn't get much out of it. Plus I listened to one of her other books (Wild Mind) on tape and her whiny voice drove me crazy, so I lost a bit of respect for her. But most everyone else who reads it finds it liberating and encouraging.

Herman, Jeff. Insider's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents (Rockland, CA: Prima/St. Martin's Press, 1998). I use this book to research publishers for trade books and check out agents. It is fairly accurate, complete and up-to-date. You will only want this one if you are going the popular book route.

Herman, Jeff and Deborah Adams. Write the Perfect Book Proposal (NY: Wiley and Sons, 1993). If you are going to do a popular ("trade") book, you will need an agent and a proposal to sell the book. This little book has ten examples of good proposals that sold for you to use as a model. There are other books about proposal writing, but this one would be all you need, really.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird (NY: Anchor, 1994). The stand-up comedian/Erma Bombeck of the writing book authors. You'll laugh and learn at the same time. Her self-deprecation got a bit old for me by the end but I enjoyed a lot of it.

Strunk, William and E.B. White. The Elements of Style (NY: Macmillan, 1979). This is the classic grammar and style book. Easy to read, with some essential lessons for the writer.

Ueland, Brenda. If You Want to Write (St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 1938/1987). Brenda Ueland is a clear, compassionate writer who will be your writing mentor from afar. This book was written in 1938 and still stands as a classic in encouraging and clarifying your writing.

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well (NY: Harper and Row, 1985). Most new writers I read write in a very obtuse and complicated way. This fellow will show you how to write clearly.

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I'm a Sherlock Holmes afficiondo and I just read two new books by a woman named Laurie R. King that are in this genre. I enjoyed them. The first is The Beekeeper's Apprentice and the second is A Monstrous Regiment of Women. If you have an interest in Holmes, feminism or Judaic studies, these booksare well-plotted and written and include all three of those things. They are both in paperback (there's a new one only in hardcover - A Letter of Mary - I haven't read it yet, but plan to).

About twenty years ago I had a client who told me (when I asked about his hobbies), told me that he read quite a bit. When I asked what kinds of books he read, he sniffed that he only read fine literary works. "Except," he said somewhat confessionally, "I read a detective series by a man named Gregory McDonald. I'll read anything he writes." I took note of the name and went out and started reading everything I could by Gregory McDonald. By now, many people are aware of his Fletch character, but don't judge him from the movies with Chevy Chase. Read the Fletch and Flynn books. And one called Safekeeping, which is unrelated to those two series. He has just begun a new series and I enjoyed the first book of that series, called Skylar. The second has just been released and is only in hardcover. While not as fast-paced as Fletch or Flynn, he has a certain voice and humor that I enjoy.

I read Isabel Allende's book, House of the Spirits, many years ago and loved it (nope, never saw the movie). This past year, my wife read her latest book, Paula, and recommended it to me. I read it on a plane ride back from Sweden this year and was impressed. It is the story of her life and her family written for her daughter, who is in a coma. It is a nice book in itself, but it also helps make sense of her fiction books and of Chilean politics and culture.

I didn't expect to like Jerry Maguire, but I kept hearing good things about it, so I went. I reeealy liked it. I see a lot of movies and like many, but rarely do I reeeeally like them. Go see it.

I've been listening to a lot of music lately: Here are some of my favorite Cds at present:

Shawn Colvin, A Few Small Repairs - I saw her in concert in Tarrytown, NY and she said the album was full of downer music, but I find it her best for awhile, very strong singing and writing;

Aimee Mann, I'mWith Stupid - She sang the hit song, Voices Carry, years ago when she was with a group, but I like her better on her own. Start with cuts 9 through 11 and when you're hooked, go back and get into the whole thing and then get her other solo release.

As a fairly obsessive Beatles fan, if you are too, I urge you to buy The Rutles Archaeology. It's a take-off on The Beatles Anthology. I'm amazed that they could write good songs in the style of the Beatles and get the musical jokes just right. Hilarious and enjoyable in its own right.

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Copyright © 1995-98 Bill O'Hanlon