From the Cheap Seats, Writing Advice

So, here’s the thing… I don’t feel that I’m in a position to give anyone advice on writing. I’ve never published anything beyond an article or two for a Community College paper. One could say, I’ve dabbled in writing, at best. I do have over 120 credits in the Humanities. So, I know a little. My writing isn’t where I want it to be in quality, quantity or anything. I’m working on it. And I have, by now, accumulated and read in the last 20 years, many, many books on all aspects of writing, involving many genres. So, I know a little about writing. Enough so, that I feel confident to point someone just starting out, in the write direction. My oldest daughter’s friend asked her what should they do to start writing. She immediately turned to me and asked that I supply her with a list and some advice to give. It is in no way a complete list, nor do I mean for anyone to run out and purchase all the books on my list. These are just some of the books I have falling out of the shelves at home.

First off, writers are readers. Read everything of interest, that you can get your hands on. Right now, I’m interested in the essay form. So, I’m reading all advise regarding that particular form. Reading all good essayists, I can get my hands on. I can’t stress enough, that while the writer tends to be a person, who doesn’t trust to share, share one must. That and feed back is invaluable! Join a group, or a class, or join (highly recommended) pay yearly, or break down and pay for a 3 year membership or a lifetime membership. Best bang for your buck! If you wait for inspiration to hit, you will never write. Just write and read and write some more every day! Understand the story arc—Everything must have a beginning, middle and an end. Two essential books by Joseph CampbellThe Power of Myth and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Make the library your home away from home.

Essential Reading for Writing


Sid Field— An absolute must. The first step you take!

      1. Screenplay—The Foundations of Screenwriting
      2. The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver
      3. Four Screenplays
      4. Selling a Screenplay

Linda Seger— Her book is used in numerous college screenwriting courses. To be used in conjunction with Syd Field.

   Making a Good Script Great, 3rd Edition

David Trotter—very necessary

   The Screenwriter’s Bible, 6th Edition

Drew’s Script-O-Rama

Essay Writing:

Dinty Moore

1) Crafting The Personal Essay

2) Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals

3) The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction:

Essay Reading:

1) Phillip Lopate

2) Christopher Hitchens


      And Yet…

3) Susan Sontag

4) Joan Didion

5) Lionel Trilling

6) Ralph Waldo Emerson

7) Henry David Thoreau

8) David Foster Wallace

        A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

        Consider The Lobster

9) Michel Montaigne

The Best American Essays (any year)


You must know the basics.

Mark Strand, Eavan Boland

   The Making of A Poem- A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms

Kim Addonizo

    A Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasure of Writing Poetry

Dana Gioia (anything on writing in any form/genre is highly recommended)

   Twentieth-Century American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry    

Poetry Reading:

The Oulipo Compendium

Found poetry

Allen Ginsberg (knew the basics, then broke rules and rewrote the game)

Kevin Young

Langston Hughes

Sylvia Plath

Shel Silverstein (not just for kids, he was great!)

Any place that sells that sells books will be able to provide you with an anthology (look for resale shops or book fairs)

Novel Writing:

Editors of Writer’s Digest

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing

Any Literary Fiction, Jeffrey Eugenides comes to mind. Douglas Adams, Martin Amis, Neil Gaiman, Jamaica Kincaid, James Baldwin, Carl Hiaasen, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Howard Jacobson etc…

Short Story Writing:

Dana Gioia

   The Art of the Short Story

Short Story Reading:

Ernest Hemingway (An Absolute Must, love him or hate him—it’s how to write.)

The Best American series…any year

Etgar Keret

Jenifer Egan


This short story was written in a series of tweets. Every line had to propel

the story forward. Brilliant.

Also, beyond this read many “good novels”. Know the difference between Literary fiction and junk/pop fiction. James Patterson is a junk writer. He sells big—has a staff who writes for him, puts out an extreme amount of idiocy. Good Erotica vs. moronic extremely badly written soft porn. Anais Nin (class act) vs. E.L James (writes for people who can’t understand literary fiction)

Nature writing—Familiarize yourself with it. Helps with description. Annie Dillard though controversial in the nature writing circle, is one of the best. 

Fantasy writing is exquisite to familiarize yourself with, because it helps with settings. Think Lord of the Rings and other worlds. J.R.R Tolkien was good. Terry Pratchett was well known and quite loved.

And I can’t stress enough, the need for a writing workshop or group or classes. Writers tend to be mistrustful loners. Share your work, get feedback, give feedback. It is the only way to learn and perfect one’s craft. DO NOT SHARE YOUR WRITING WITH FAMILY AND/OR FRIENDS UNTIL YOUR PIECE IS EDITED, RE-EDITED, SUBMITTED, PUBLISHED. THEY WILL NOT ONLY DESTROY YOUR WILL TO WRITE, BUT YOUR WILL TO LIVE.

Also, before submitting any of your work, read it out loud to yourself—essential! If it doesn’t ring right, sound right, or flow right to you, it won’t to others.

Write every day, try to have a desk/area where you work at writing and try to carve out the same hours daily to do so. Write every day for 90 days and you’ll have yourself a habit. Write about what interests you. Keep a journal. Free flow and just write. Don’t edit, until you’re done. And, pick up a style and grammar book. There are newer ones, other than Strunk and White, but good to familiarize yourself, regardless.

Writing prompts can be found online. If you have any questions please feel free to ask.

Good luck with your writing!

4 thoughts on “From the Cheap Seats, Writing Advice

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