Sunday, September 21, 2008

Generating Ideas for Online Article Writing

When you have a topic to write about, constructing a great article can seem simple. However, generating those ideas causes frustration for many talented writers. There are days when I run into writers block and can't come up with any interesting ideas. Sometimes the problem is that there are too many topics to write about, so it becomes difficult to choose. When I find myself stuck for ideas, I turn to the many tips and exercises that help me find my muse once again.

Read constantly. The newspaper, magazines, blogs, and popular websites are a gold mine for ideas. When you read a new article, ask yourself questions. What else do you want to know about the topic? Did the author leave anything important out? Are there any related topics that could be interesting to write about?

Make a list of all the hobbies and interests that you have. For example, I love animals and have a pet cat. If I wanted to write about cats, I could write about foods, treats, training, socialization, breeds, and so on. I could write a serious, researched article about feline illnesses, or a humor column about how my cat learned how to open the Ziploc bag containing her treats.

Don't forget to consider past work experience when creating your brainstorming list. You may have hated that job you held during college, but it could turn into an interesting anecdote or article. What did you love and hate about past jobs? What information would you like to share with others about the field? Do you have any tips for success in those areas?

Keep your eyes and ears open in the community. Local events and exhibits can be covered for websites specializing in your community, or they can be used as anecdotes for broader pieces. Is something special going on? Don't miss the opportunity to come up with new articles.

Stash a small notebook in your purse, briefcase, or car. Ideas used to hit me at times when I couldn't write them down. When I got home, I didn't remember what they were! So I began keeping a pen and notebook with me whenever possible. Now I rarely miss out on a great topic or opening line.

Helium has been a wonderful source of inspiration, because there are so many topics available to write about. Pick up your brainstorming list and choose something that you are interested in. You can take a look at the category and any subcategories on Helium and browse through the subject headers.

I also find inspiration on Helium when I rate other articles. Sometimes topics pop up that I had not come across before, or the articles themselves give me ideas for tangential articles. Don't speed through this part of the process - you never know when you may find a new idea.

The key to generating article ideas is simply asking yourself questions. Find a starting point, whether it be the paper, your brainstorming list, or Helium, and ask yourself, "What else needs to be written?" This should lead you to plenty of new article topics.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Potential Earnings From A Novel

Trying to assess the potential earnings from selling a novel can be an exercise in futility. Advances can range from nothing into six figures, depending on the novel, the person negotiating the contract, and the publishing house. The "typical" advance quoted for first time novelists is generally between $2000 and $5000 but that is only the beginning of the payment process.

Publishers pay advances based on their sales expectations and the size of the print run. An advance against royalties is received upon acceptance, delivery of the manuscript or publication (or some combination thereof). This advance is considered the first royalty payment, and the author will not receive their next until they have sold enough books to "earn out" their advance.

A typical contract will pay the author between 5 and 10 percent of the sales of his or her book. To land a deal with a major publishing house, which will have better channels for distribution and marketing, you will need an agent. The agent works for a 15% commission and is more than just a salesperson. They have connections with editors and can get your book into the right hands. When a contract is offered, the agent will negotiate it and help you understand the details.

A good agent can find many other ways to make money from your novel. For instance, your agency may be able to negotiate sales of foreign rights or movie options. This is one of the major perks of working with an agent instead of negotiating contracts on your own. They know the proper avenues to earn the most money from your novel.

The bitter truth is that most published writers need a day job, or to do freelance work for magazines, journals, websites, and newspapers to pay the bills. Only about 5% of writers can make a living on their writing alone. J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown-level success stories are rare.

It also would be a wise move to reinvest some of your earnings into additional marketing. While your publishing house may do some publicity for you, authors are expected to work on getting their name out as well. Many authors choose to hire their own publicist to work with the house publicists.

Pushing your first novel is especially wise, because if you do not sell out your advance it can be more difficult to sell your second novel.

However, don't let that stop you from writing your novel and attempting to find an agent or a publishing house. The sense of accomplishment from seeing your work on a bookstore shelf is worth the effort. Happy writing!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Importance Of Books

I feel blessed that my parents made a point to read to me from birth. I learned to read at a young age, and have had a lifelong love affair with books. Books are of the utmost importance to society as well as to individuals.

Books preserve history. How much would we know of the past without the literary works and historical records that survived into modern times? They give us a glimpse into societies that are long gone. Fiction can provide us with many of the details of everyday life that official paperwork, such as governmental documents, cannot provide. It tells us what people ate, how they spent their leisure time, and what values were important.

Books help us learn. When many people think of books and education, they think of their textbooks from school or outdated encyclopedias. However, there is a wide world of nonfiction out there to educate us on every subject imaginable. When I want information on something new, it only takes a trip to the public library. Books spread ideas and philosophy, from Plato to Wittgenstein and everyone in between.

Books take us to places we may never have the chance to visit. In books, I can walk the plains of Middle Earth, comb the forests of Narnia, or explore the secret passages of the Hogwarts castle. I can visit the polar icecaps, the Great Wall, or the Egyptian Pyramids. Whether real or fantasy, books can be my own personal travel agent and whisk me around the world.

Books engage our imagination. When we watch movies or television, we are given the entire scene in front of our eyes. When we read, however, we get to picture the characters and the scenes. We get to fill in the details and daydream. Books allow us to be the director. They provide us entertainment and joy.

Many people seem to do their reading solely on the internet nowadays. However, I will always enjoy the comfort of a good book. They are easier on my eyes and I can curl up in front of the fireplace with one on cool winter nights. I love bookstores and libraries, and could spend days there. Books are like an old friend that I can always go back to.

The written word was one of the major advancements leading towards modern civilization. Without it, where would we be today?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tips For Finding Story Ideas

Story ideas surround us every day, but when a writer gets blocked it can seem like there is nothing new in the world. There are an infinite number of ways to shake up your routine and get the creative juices flowing again. Many of my favorites involve writing prompts or observing the world around me.

The best part about ideas is that the more of them you use, the more you seem to have! The simple act of sitting down with your computer or notebook and free-writing can trigger a flood of ideas.

Try your hand at writing exercises and prompts. Many websites and message boards have a list of these for writers. A quick Google search for "writing prompts" can bring up more than you could finish in a lifetime of writing. There are also entire books devoted to writing exercises to help stimulate your mind and improve your writing. My favorite is "The 3 A.M Epiphany" by Brian Kiteley. This book contains over 200 exercises focused on every part of writing.

My favorite prompt: Spend ten minutes writing about your favorite food. Use all five senses when you describe it. When do you normally eat it? Is it from a restaurant, or homemade? When was the last time you had this meal? Food is a universal experience, and everyone has something to say about it. If your writing meanders during this exercise, run with it! You never know where your brain is going to take you. You may remember an experience that triggers a great idea.

I like to keep a pocket-sized notebook nearby as much as possible. Have you ever been out running errands and been struck by a great idea, only to have it disappear before you reach a computer? Jotting down notes, even if it's just a few words, can help you keep these ideas in mind. I also have one computer file devoted solely to future ideas. They range from one sentence to several pages, and are there to browse through whenever I am ready to start a new project. Many writers tend to find ideas right before they go to sleep or in their dreams, so keeping your notebook by the bed couldn't hurt.

Spend time people-watching. If you have a friend who is a writer, this can be a great game. Get a cup of coffee and find a public spot to sit down. Pick out someone from the crowd, and make up a story about them. What do they do for a living? Do they have a family? What is their average day like? Just try not to get caught staring!

Art museums can be a wonderful place to come up with ideas if you are fortunate to live near one. When you have a free afternoon, grab your notebook and sit down in front of a work of art. Whether you choose abstract paintings, sculptures, or photography, ask yourself questions. I once did this exercise with an exhibition of photographs of homes. I spent time looking at one, then asked myself who might have lived there and what kind of life did they lead.

Find your characters first, and let them tell their own story. Often, if a character is well developed, they seem to have their own ideas about how the story should go. Plot points that might have been planned out suddenly don't seem natural for their personality. If your characters seem to be leading things in a different direction, run with it. It means that you have done your job well and created realistic people to inhabit your world.

Ask "what if" questions about experiences in your own life, or about stories you hear from others. What would have happened if someone made a different choice? How would things have changed? By looking at old experiences with a new perspective, you may just stumble upon a gem.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why Writers Write?

Why do we write?

It's difficult to assign one opinion to an entire group of people. There are as many reasons to write as there are writers. Each person brings their unique talents and history to the page when they sit down to work. So I will try to explain why I write. Maybe you share some of these reasons, and maybe you will add your own to the list.

I write because I have something to say, but I'm shy around groups. I stutter when I speak and I get distracted in the middle of telling stories. Despite numerous attempts to improve my public speaking, I just can't get the hang of it! However, on paper I can suddenly say what I was trying to say.

I write because I feel like I have a story to tell. The first time I tried to write fiction, I was in kindergarten. It was just a few sentences about a girl I made up (who was quite a bit like me). Since then, I have continued to pursue fiction with all my heart. I have ideas that need to be expressed. They say that everyone has a story to tell, and I am just trying to put mine down on the page.

I write because I love the power to create worlds and people, and to communicate information to others. Words are powerful. Words allow the reader to immerse themselves in fantasy and entertain their minds. Words can teach and convey information.

I write because I love the challenge. Writing is rarely easy. Sometimes the words seem to get stuck in my mind or I stop finding new ideas. Once I do complete a draft, it needs to be edited and rewritten to make my words shine. Then came the rejection letters. You have to have passion to write professionally because otherwise, the struggles will stop you. However, for me beating those struggles are exhilarating. The first acceptance letter I received was one of my biggest achievements. I had done what many people wish they could. I was a published author.

I write because I love being able to earn a little extra money doing something I have passion for. While money was never why I began to write, and it isn't why I write fiction and poetry, I have been developing my skills as a freelance writer in recent years. From Helium contributions to magazine articles, there are a wealth of opportunities out there for talented writers. I love my day job and have no intention of quitting, but the extra cash helps!

I write because I want my parents to be proud of me. I come from a family that values books and education above most other things. Our house was filled with shelves full of stories. Sometimes I wonder if my passion for writing didn't develop out of a desire to impress them.

I write because I have to. It's no more complicated than that. Writing is something that I have done as long as I can remember, and will hopefully continue to do for the rest of my life.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Analyzing the Writer's Market

A writer's livelihood depends on their ability to analyze the available markets and find work for themselves. With the advent of the internet there seem to be more opportunities opening for writers daily. Taking advantage of the market is about research, patience, confidence and persistence.

Research

The single largest key to breaking into the market is spending time doing research. There are more available magazines and newspapers out there than most writers might think. Search the internet and you may turn up the perfect place to pitch to.

There are many books out there on the business aspects of freelancing that could be of service. One of my favorites is "Make a REAL LIVING as a Freelance Writer" by Jenna Glatzer. Glatzer is a well known author of books and magazine pieces, and covers subjects from pitching to interviews to invoicing.

Even small, local public libraries tend to have a few back issues of a variety of magazines. Take the time to study publications that you are considering pitching. Study the tone and length of the articles and think about where your idea might fit best. If possible, get a copy of the magazine's editorial calendar. This will let you know what the themes and topics of future editions will be, so you can send appropriate ideas.

Patience

The process can be time consuming. Editors are often notoriously slow to respond to queries. Do not expect an immediate response to your email or letter, although they do happen sometimes. Editors are busy people and reviewing pitches is a low priority.
After a month has passed, if you haven't received any response to your email or letter, it is appropriate to follow up and make sure that the editor received your query. Make sure you are professional in all future contacts and "nudging."

Confidence

Many writers limit the growth of their career because of self-doubt. If you have a proposal for an article that would be perfect for a major, national magazine then find the appropriate editor and send it!

Also, have confidence when it comes to your pay rates. Too many writers continue to write for free or very low pay when they have the opportunity to move on. If you have previously written for a magazine and have proven that you do good work and get it in before the deadline, then try asking for a slightly higher rate. There are freelance writers out there making more than $1 per word - wouldn't you like to be among them?

Persistence

Inevitably, writers will face rejection. No matter how talented you may be your style will not be the right fit for every magazine or website that you query. This does not mean that your idea isn't worthy. Continue to pitch other magazines! If you believe that your story is good, there will be someone out there who wants it. Develop a tough skin and be tenacious.

Spend time learning as much as you can about the market, and you will be rewarded. Good luck and happy writing!

Thoughts On Writing

For several years, I have been writing on the subject of writing. I suppose this is what I get for spending so much time reading about writing.

As a freelancer, poet, and hopeful future novelist, I seem to spend all the time that I'm not at my day job thinking about writing. I thought I would share them here in conjunction with book reviews. I would love to get feedback from my fellow writers about their thoughts on the topic!

Some of these articles have appeared on other websites, while some come from ideas formed on message board posts.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Make a REAL LIVING as a Freelance Writer by Jenna Glatzer

My eventual goal is to write full time. Currently I have a 40+ hour a week gig as a baker. While I enjoy my day job, writing allows me to pursue all my passions. I can explore food, nature, travel, art, animals and more instead of being confined to one subject. My biggest problem is that I have always had too many goals for my life, and not enough time.

I know that fiction is probably never going to pay my bills, so I began to explore the world of freelance writing. I have done some Internet writing but I had no idea where to begin. The pitching process can be intimidating, so I needed to learn.

I had been a member of the writing forum at Absolute Write, but wasn't active. When I started surfing the site for information I discovered several references to the book Make a REAL LIVING as a Freelance Writer by Jenna Glatzer, who owned Absolute Write for over seven years. The recommendations were so positive that I lifted my self-imposed ban on buying books and purchased my own copy.

Besides her experience at Absolute Write, Glatzer has written quite a few books and literally hundreds of magazine articles. I prefer buying writing books by people who have extensive professional experience, especially when I look for books about the business end of things. Glatzer easily filled that.

Make a REAL LIVING is laid out logically, following the process from generating ideas to billing. Glatzer didn't leave out any steps. The chapter about queries eliminated almost all my fear of the process. She dissected two sample queries -- one good, one bad. These "don'ts" helped me rewrite my letters and emails, and they are so much better now!

My copy is already showing signs of wear, and is highlighted extensively. My favorite part is the sidebar boxes. Glatzer filled them with tips, tricks, and websites that I never would have discovered otherwise. Sometimes it seemed that she answered my questions as soon as I came up with them. For instance, I was wondering about how my last of a fax machine would affect me, and then she recommended the online service eFax, where you can get a fax number and have incoming faxes forwarded to your email account. Perfect!

This book is my number one recommendation to writers looking to break into magazines and major online markets. I really couldn't have asked for more.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley

Writing exercises and prompts are one of my favorite parts of books on writing. So on my last quest for a new writing book, I looked for a book that was meant to be used rather than simply read. Brian Kiteley gave me a solution.

In The 3 A.M Epiphany, Kiteley has given me a gold mine. The book is composed of over 200 exercises on a range of subjects, from point of view and images to humor and travel. For me, they differ from what you might find in other how-to books because the exercises themselves are meant to be the teacher. Frequently, the prompts and exercises are located at the ends of chapters to reinforce the lesson that was just given. This book teaches by allowing you to write. For people who learn best by doing something and not just reading about it, it may be exactly what you need!

I am working my way through this book one exercise at a time. Each day I move on to the next one, so it will take me almost seven months to finish the book! However, I consider it a warm up for my day. I begin with a writing exercise, which rarely takes more than fifteen minutes, and then move on to my work-in-progress (WIP), an article, or a blog post.

My favorite exercise thus far is number 48, which asks the reader to write 600 words using cookery "as a way of understanding a man and a woman's relationship to each other." As a full-time cook, I love the idea of using food related scenes to help in my character development! Everyone has a favorite story to tell on the subject.

You may wish to work through the exercises in a more random fashion, jumping to a topic that you need work on or just to an arbitrary page. If you are stuck on a particular WIP, try checking out the last dozen selections. They are devoted to just that problem, and range from writing quickly about a particular character to try and "outrun" your internal critic to using a tape recorder to tell the story of a scene that is giving you trouble.

Kiteley has challenged me to look more deeply at my own writing thanks to The 3 A.M. Epiphany. After I complete one exercise, the next one might ask me to do something completely opposite. It is a unique way of helping me grow and develop my writer's toolkit!

Monday, March 24, 2008

How To Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

Author Orson Scott Card knows how to write Science Fiction. He won the Hugo and Nebula Awards two years in a row-- first for Ender's Game and then for Speaker for the Dead. He is the only author to have won both these prizes in two consecutive years. Experience does not always translate into a successful how-to book, but in Card's case it works wonderfully. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy was the first book that I picked up when I decided I wanted to venture into the fantasy genre, and it was a wonderful investment.

This book is geared towards Science Fiction writers more than Fantasy, but if you are interested in either genre it would be worth your time to read. He begins by defining the boundaries between the segments of speculative fiction, particularly between Science Fiction and Fantasy. He breaks down the rules to their simplest form: "Science fiction is about what could be but isn't; fantasy is about what couldn't be."

Then Card moves into one of the most important parts of creating these types of stories-- world building. Even if you never mention them in your story, you have to define the rules of your world. You have to know how the space travel or magic work, and what their limitations are. If the fantastical elements have no consequences and no definition, they can quickly become a deus ex machina and pull the reader out of the story. You can only expect your reader to suspend their disbelief for so much; you must have a grasp on the rules to keep them interested.

One section, number 4, is titled simply "Writing Well" and I recommend it for folks of all genres. While the examples it uses lean towards Card's own genres, the topics are basic and necessary, such as naming, piquing the reader's interest, and exposition. He does a wonderful job at explaining how to relate information to the reader without falling into the trap of the "info dump."

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy will put many other books on your "must read" list, as Card makes liberal use of examples from his own life and other authors. Octavia Butler and Ursula K. LeGuin are frequently quoted and paragraphs from their work are dissected. By using other books to illustrate his points, Card allows the reader opportunity to continue studying beyond the cover of his book. He gives his audience direction.

If you want to write speculative fiction, Orson Scott Card's books should be on your shelf anyway. This one is a wonderful addition, and I am grateful to him for being willing to share his knowledge and experience with new writers!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande

Have you ever stared at a piece of writing, wondering if it really needs that hyphen? Have you looked up apostrophes in multiple grammar guides, just to find that the rules contradict each other? Do you know someone who seems ready to pounce on anyone who makes an innocent mistake with the language?

If so, you might want to pick up a copy of Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande. The book brings sarcasm and pop culture to the world of grammar. I love books that can teach you something important while still making you laugh, and Casagrande is successful at doing just that. She is a writer and journalist who writes a grammar column in the Los Angeles Times, so she knows what she is talking about and has dealt with letters from grammar snobs everywhere who are offended at a grammatical mistake in a grammar column.

One of the first topics that Casagrande covers is the difference between "who" and "whom" and in what situations each one is appropriate ("who" is used as the subject of a sentence, and "whom" is used as the object). Grammar snobs love to use whom, and often use it incorrectly in their eagerness to show off.

The next chapter, about "til" versus "till," sets the lesson within the context of The Simpsons, which is a show with surprisingly accurate grammar. The one mistake they make on a regular basis is using 'til as the shortened form of until. As odd as it seems to add an extra letter onto the end of an abbreviation, the correct version is "till."

Often, she will reference the Associated Press Stylebook, the Chicago Manuel of Style, The Elements of Style, and Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. It's no wonder that the rules of grammar can get so confusing, when all the major tomes seem to disagree! It's important to know which reference guide is accepted for the particular type of writing you are doing. For instance, the AP Stylebook is the standard for newspapers and print journalism, where space is at a premium.

The forty-two short chapters can be flipped back to when you need to double check if you should write forty-two or 42, or you can read straight through. Few other grammar books lend themselves well to both.

Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies won't replace the reference guides on your bookshelf, but if you want to brush up on your skills and entertain yourself at the same time, this book is a terrific choice.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

Author Anne Lamott has written a large selection of fiction and non-fiction, but my favorite by far is Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. She is funny, honest, and up front about the most difficult subjects in life. For me, that willingness to be completely open is what makes her instructions on writing a book that is worth reading.

With all the books on writing, so many of them can become repetitive and stale. But the best books have some spark that makes them engaging and unique. As Lamott puts it, "Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind get recycled back and forth across the universe. But what you have to offer is your own sensibility, maybe your own sense of humor or insider pathos or meaning." She uses her wry humor to accomplish this, even during tragic anecdotes.

The subtitle was particularly interesting when I first picked up this book: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. So much of the advice does apply to both topics. Tackle projects one step at a time (take them bird by bird, so to speak), have confidence in yourself, don't listen to your internal critique, and be open to the world around you.

Lamott is brutally honest about the difficult side of writing. She is the first to admit that "all good writers write [shitty first drafts]" and hate the few people who claim that their work comes out perfect on the first attempt. In her one small chapter about publication, she uses her own story to demonstrate how it is not a guarantee of happiness and how there are a whole new set of problems that arise.

With all of the truth-telling, the book is never discouraging. Lamott breaks down the myths and the fantasy, but replaces it with solid advice and techniques to move forward. Since it is written from personal experience and anecdotes I never felt the book was forcing advice on me. The message seemed to be "Here is my story and my method; I hope it helps you create yours." The section that includes publication is called "Publication-- and Other Reasons to Write." She always stays hopeful that even though things might not be easy, they are worthwhile.

That has been one of the most important lessons I have learned in my own writing. It may not be simple and it may not lead to a major book deal, but every moment I spend writing is worth it. Bird by Bird is a constant reminder of that.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

To me, the most important thing about reading a book on the craft of writing is that it makes me want to pick up a pen or turn on my computer and write. Yes, it has to be engaging, and yes hopefully it will teach me something new or help me approach an old process with a new frame of mind, but what I love are the books that light a fire under me.

At the top of my list is the book that I have highlighted the most sections and written the most margin notes in. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is a book that I have seen referenced over and over, and upon reading it I understood why.

Natalie Goldberg is the author of nine books, as well as being a poet, painter, and teacher of writing in Northern New Mexico. Her website features information on her newest book, tour schedule, classes and workshops, as well as her selection of books.

Ms. Goldberg's book focuses primarily on writing practice-- the mere act of sitting down with pen and paper and writing. She has six rules for writing practice, from "Keep your hand moving" to "Go for the jugular." She urges writers to not cross out and not edit themselves during these practice sessions, just keep your hand moving across the page and don't be afraid to write what comes to mind. That particular passage may all be garbage. So what?

In any other art form, it is expected that you will practice. How many of us took music lessons as children and were assigned to practice for a certain amount of time a day? We may have rejected and rebelled against the idea, but where would we have been without it? The initial sketches of a painter and the hours of practice for a concert violinist are not for an audience, they are just to learn. Why should the writer be any different?

One question I hear frequently from new authors is "How do you come up with ideas?" What they need to understand is ideas tend to generate more ideas. When you start sifting through your brain and asking "What if?" questions, you begin to find more and more ideas and characters ready for the taking. By engaging in Ms. Goldberg's writing practice, you are using one method to get there.

The chapters are short, which is another thing that I enjoy in books of these natures. If you are stuck, it is easy to open to one and find an exercise or anecdote to restart your story. Some are as short as three paragraphs, but each still has a strong message to convey.

Writing Down the Bones will most likely always be in my list of most-loved books. It neglects the business side of the creative process, which I think is exactly what people need when they first think "I'd like to write a book..."

Friday, March 07, 2008

Books on Books

How many people dream of being the next big name in fiction, or of writing the Great American Novel?

I'm the first to admit that I'm addicted to books about writing. These books are written to inspire, to teach, and to share (and, lets be honest, to capitalize on the large number of people who imagine what it would be like to see their book at Borders).

Get ready to wear out your library card, because I'm here to share with you a list of my most beloved books on writing. Whether you are looking to improve your grammar, learn about the business side of the process, or just find new information I hope that I will have a resource that you can turn to.

The beauty of books is that they are subjective. Every author has their devotees and their detractors, and neither group is necessarily wrong. So while I may love the books I am going to share here, you might hate them. Speak up!

What is important to you when you pick up a book on writing? What is your favorite? Which did you want to throw at the wall?