Who doesn’t appreciate people who come along with a purple crayon and draw a door in the wall you’ve been beating your head against? Or points out the image you hadn’t noticed in the clouds overhead? Mentors wield purple crayons for us as they help us stretch and grow and see the world in fresh, new ways, and that’s especially valuable to writers.
Kathleen Pooler celebrated her third blogaversary with a post on The Magic of Mentors. The post includes a short video in which she interviews three of her own mentors, and I’m honored to be included, along with Linda Joy Myers and Jerry Waxler. Kathleen’s post includes a transcript of the highlights of the video.
One of the points I made in the interview is that many of the mentors who have had the most profound influence on the way I view the world and the way I write are people I’ve met only between the covers of an endless parade of books. I’d like to celebrate a few recent finds:
Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi take top billing with their amazing volume, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. These brilliant women convincingly demonstrate that emotions play a crucial role in moving a story along and fleshing out characters. After covering basic concepts and tools, they explore 75 leading emotions in exhaustive detail, explaining how people experiencing each one looks, feels, behaves, moves, and more. Even if you never write a word, this book will increase your awareness of emotion in yourself and others.
Lisa Cron lights my brain with findings in her recent volume, Wired for Story: the Writer’s Guide to Using Neuroscience to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. Although Cron cites second party reports more often than technical ones, her findings seem intuitively obvious, reinforcing the importance of Story as the operating system of the human brain. Even without the neuroscience label, her thoughts on story structure ring true and inspire a few reaches and edits.
In Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing, Constance Hale does for verbs what Ackerman and Puglisi do for emotions. You don’t have to be a writer to appreciate this book. Hale includes a linguistic survey of the history of language and how English in the USA came to its present form. You don’t need to read this book in order, or all at once to enjoy its benefits. You don’t need to read all of it. Skip the academic portions if they seem ponderous and stick with the milk of her simpler explanations and exercises.
Roger Rosenblatt is my latest mentor, and he covers two bases in Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing. In this remarkable volume he uses the memoir form to take readers inside his mind as he teaches an class (actually a composite from his experience), pointing out to the class what makes a story vital and compelling. As both a writer and a teacher myself, I derived double benefit from the book.
Perhaps most interesting is the fact that although Rosenblatt’s writing in the first chapter is definitely substandard (what are “French eyes?”), the value of subsequent material redeemed the weak beginning, and reviews show that at least some readers are willing to make allowances. Still, the fact that the intro wasn’t smoothed out makes me wonder if perhaps HarperCollins can no longer afford editors and shows that even renowned veteran writers need them.
I’ve often pointed out that reading the work of other writers can make your own stronger. While it’s important to read memoir and novels, it’s doubly valuable to include inspiring instruction such as that provided by these gifted and insightful mentors-in-print who wield mighty purple crayons and show you how to use your own.
Write now: leave a comment to tell us about one or more of your favorite mentors-in-print. This doesn’t have to be an instructional book such as ones above. I could have included Janet Fitch’s remarkable novel, White Oleander. Fitch continues to serves an an inspiration and example of remarkable writing for both voice and structure.