Confessions of a ‘how to write’ book junkie – Liz Fenwick

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By Liz Fenwick

I’m not sure when the addiction began, but now I prowl bookstores looking in the research section under writing. You would think that by now with my fifth book written and four on the shelves that I wouldn’t need ‘how to write’ books but strangely enough I feel called to them even more.♥

Back in my pre-published days when I was searching for an agent one kindly took me under her wing and gave me some advice – read Sol Stein’s Solutions For Writers. Being eager to please, I did. Light bulbs went off and there it all began.

Struggling with my next book, a fellow writer recommended Donald Maass’ Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook. It is the best book I’ve found to work through and revise, tighten and push your work onto the next level. One of his other books – Fire In Fiction – I find essential for the gearing up to write process. I open the book randomly and find one of the exercises and do it. It may not have anything to do with the piece I’m working at the moment but it pushes the writing muscle in a new way or works it harder. It also kills the blank page … you know those days when you haven’t a clue what to write, what comes next … those days are ideal for a writing exercise.

Next in my quest, came script writing ones – first Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. But I didn’t stop there. Dara Marks Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc blew my mind and stretched my writing. I reread this book for each new novel. In my notebook I sketch down the ideas that spark off of her words. Looking through my books I can see the difference it made to A Cornish Stranger and Under A Cornish Sky.


In an ideal world I would be able to do as she suggests and have it all figured out before I put pen to paper, but sadly my writing process doesn’t work that way. I have to write my first draft, hoping it’s going in the right direction, and then carve the story out of the words. Her book has provided me with some of my best tools.

Recently I found Story Trumps Structure: How To Write Unforgettable Fiction By Breaking The Rules by Steven James. It sat on the to-be-read pile until I was struggling with The Returning Tide. The first half of it states many of the things I’ve read in other books, but when he begins to talk about the writing process and not planning (me!) and how this is good and how to make it better. My way was lit.

I don’t need these books, but they have made the way easier and my novels better. Thanks to Dara Marks and others I understood what I was trying to achieve in Under A Cornish Sky and how I could make it stronger. Long live the ‘how-to book’!

Liz Fenwick is the award-winning author of The Cornish House, A Cornish Affair, A Cornish Stranger and Under A Cornish Sky.


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