January 21, 2021

These books can help you write your way through coronavirus seclusion – Orange County Register

By Courtney Maum

Last month at a skeleton-crew version of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference known as AWP, I gave a talk to its Writer to Writer mentorship program about control.

Among the attendees, anxiety prevailed. Would frequent hand-washing be enough to keep this COVID-19 thing at bay? Would literary agents ever open up their inboxes again? What would a writing life in limbo look like or even mean?

Book writers in America pray before the altar of Things We Can’t Control: starred trade reviews, celebrity book club selections, bookstagram attention, radio interviews, podcast and festival invitations, and above all, healthy sales.


This last desire is the most elusive one. In my latest book, “Before And After The Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide To Finishing, Publishing, Promoting And Surviving Your First Book Deal,” industry guru Jane Friedman said that writers should hope to sell three thousand books, not more, and that quote was given to me in 2018 well before the end times that we’re self-isolating in.

Between the global pandemic, the environment’s fragility and the ceaseless upsets of an election year, it’s pretty clear the only thing writers can do is to expect the unexpected. But who wants to do that? In a world out of control, it’s essential that we manage some aspect of our art-making.

And folks: it won’t be sales.

My vote goes to craft. While sharpening your writing skills isn’t going to supplement lost income or babysit your kids, it might just feel transgressive and wild enough to save your freaking soul. We’re all in this together in a way that has never been truer. There is something terrifying about that, certainly. But behind the fear and helplessness, there is room for creativity. There is room for craft.

Virtual book launches and call-in happy hours, celebrities drawing with your homeschooled children, virtual bookstore storefronts, free shipping and discounts from your favorite indie bookstores, online writing classes a go-go, an unprecedented hunger to experiment and share, this is the time to let our writing bolster us, to make craft our mental gym.

Here are some titles to give your writing mind a workout and keep you six feet from your phone.

“Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life after Which Everything Was Different” by Chuck Palahniuk

Whether you like him or actively go out of your way to avoid people who like him, Palahniuk’s hybrid memoir and writing advice guidebook is a rags-to-riches tale that celebrates perseverance and a dogged addiction to craft.

“Elements of Fiction” by Walter Mosley

A follow-up to Mosley’s renowned “This Year You Write Your Novel,” this prolific mystery writer shares candid tips about essential fiction elements such as character development, pacing, plot, and revelation.

“Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative” by Jane Alison

If you are sick to death of hearing about the “arc,” this is the book for you. Alison looks instead to patterns and waves in non-linear prose. A most refreshing read.

“Recollection of My Non-Existence: A Memoir” by Rebecca Solnit

The author of “Men Explain Things To Me” revisits how she found her voice, her art and her feminism in the not-particularly welcoming cultural climate of 1980s San Francisco. A hard-earned coming of age story that also celebrates the value of getting lost inside one’s dreams and mind.

“The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing” by Margot Livesey

Learning to write through critical reading is an approach near to my heart. Livesy’s insights into the mysteries of craft are intuitive, moving, and sly.

The Poets & Writers Complete Guide to Being a Writer: Everything You Need to Know About Craft, Inspiration, Agents, Editors, Publishing, and the Business of Building a Sustainable Writing Career by Kevin Larimer and Mary Gannon

The award-winning non-profit organization Poets & Writers pours 50 years of experience into this nuts-and-bolts guide to a career in writing.

And be on the lookout for this forthcoming book:

“Craft in the Real World” by Matthew Salesses

Part manifesto, part writing guide, this fantastic resource helps writers, teachers and students navigate challenges in the current writing workshop and craft model by showing how they fail marginalized writers, while celebrating diverse points of view in creative storytelling.

Regardless of the books you choose as your companions-in-Coronavirus times, independent bookstores desperately need your business—please buy books from them.

And don’t forget the backlist! Consider adding “Sister Outsider” by Audre Lorde, Dani Shapiro’s “Still Writing”, Jane Friedman’s “The Business of Being A Writer”, “Screenplay” by Syd Field,  “Dreyer’s English” by Benjamin Dreyer and Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” to your book haul.

Courtney Maum is the author of three novels and the guidebook “Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting and Surviving Your First Book Deal” out now from Catapult. You can sign up for her writing newsletter “Get Published, Stay Published” through CourtneyMaum.com

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