WILF: ‘Use Your Words’ by Catherine Deveny

I bought this book on a whim because it had ‘You are my special snowflake’ in the introduction. Shallow, likely, but since I’m the human half of Team Snowflake I decided to pretend the universe was giving me a sign.

I am so glad I did.

Catherine Deveny has a vivacious style that makes it easy to keep reading her advice. The other reason I kept reading was that the advice was great. And she made me laugh, which is definitely necessary when you’re looking at the cold hard truths of writing. Like it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, just write the darn book.

Picking up this book when I was at a stage of deciding just how much quitting writing would be the better idea. I had the ‘done’ button in front of me and was about to hit it and forget all the horrendous half-drafts in my pile of files.

Deveny took that wrung out me and walked me through the fact that what I write is likely shit. That it’s okay to write shit. You are the only person you are writing for. She made it completely okay to be  Gunna, and to take the step from someone is ‘going to’ write to someone who is writing. And that was all before she got to the actual craft stuff!

The big thing I’ve taken from the craft section is her goal setting. It is on my sticky notes as ‘half, half, half again, quarter of that and treat!’ with a smiley face. And she’s right. Taking the smallest part to get something done will make it happen. This blog post, right here? I was going to write the intro part. And then I got a cup of tea. And I wrote the little bit about the style, and patted the dog. And here we are past where I thought I would get to with the review today. Deveny is brilliant.

She makes it easy to feel like you can honestly just start writing and enjoy it, with the confidence to play with your voice because this is for you. First and foremost, this is for you, so do it. Otherwise, why would you be reading the book in the first place?

The other thing I really liked was her use of text-to-speech to help speed up the editing process. I got myself a neat add-in for Word, because I’m still using Word, and there is nothing quite like a vaguely stilted British woman reading your work to you. It really helps catch the words you’ve misspelled and where things actually don’t make sense.

This book is now one of my go-to books for getting started writing. It helps me relax when I feel nothing but the weighty anxiety of being ‘good enough’ to actually call myself a writer, because even if I only write to make myself feel things it still counts.

If you are able to get a copy, do.

And when you feel self-doubt creeping in, remember these words are for you. And if you want to, you can delete them or burn them or whatever else you want to do with them. But they are for you, no one else. Just keep going!

WILF: ‘How to be a Writer’ by John Birmingham

There are a lot of ‘how to write’ books out that claim to help you get better at writing.  Some of them focus on the mechanics of story craft, on how to make your stories sparkle and avoid the potentially planet sized plot holes that will sink you.

John Birmingham’s book is not one of those.

Instead, he assumes that you can actually muck about with the craft itself and get something done. What he does is give you ways to make sure you actually put your bum in the chair and do it. And have some idea what to do when you have done it. Birmingham’s tip, get an agent.

As an Australian, it was a really delightful change to be able to understand the author of a book like this. So many times, the fact that our system isn’t the American model means I lose connection with a writing book. We can get sued for defamation on our little blogs, even if no one really sees them. But Birmingham delivers his advice in a blunt, humorous, swearing honesty that made me feel right at home. Nothing quite like someone calling out your distractions in coarse, but appropriate terms to make you re-evaluate why you’re really haunting Facebook pages… The answer is procrastination, just in case you were wondering. Well, that and self-doubt. Birmingham has great advice on both those in ‘nail down your working routine’ and ‘kick self-doubt in the dick’ chapters respectively.

If you want a book to tell you how you’re a special snowflake and you can do anything, including win Nobel Prizes, this book is applicable as long as you’re okay with the humour. Birmingham assumes you’re going to write to the best of your ability, wherever that takes you. If you just get on with it and do the hard work.

If you want a book to make you snort at inappropriate moments on the train, and make you consider whipping up a blog post or chapter or competition entry instead of getting into yet another Facebook fight, this is for you.

Want to cram writing in around the rest of your life? This man has the tips to add to your arsenal. And the swear words to make them stick in there. Did I mention the self-doubt chapter? Nothing like referring to that as the Phallus of Doubt to make it easier to tell it to get stuffed when it’s in the way, or brace yourself for when it’s time to start editing.

I have a feeling I really will come back to this book so often it will get tattered, and while the stains may be tea instead of booze, Birmingham provides exactly what is advertised. A no nonsense, honest, hilariously over-the-top guide to ‘write like a motherfucker’.

Review: ‘The Happy Horse’ by Tania Kindersley

There are a lot of books out there that will tell you about horsemanship, but Tania Kindersley has taken a different look at it. She has taken her delightful The Red Mare from her blog posts, and used the insight they have given her as she learned about horsemanship to help other people as they’re starting out.

Now, I am in the foothills of horsemanship as she would say, so I read this because I had fallen a bit in love with the Red Mare in her Scottish field via the blog. Kindersley’s writing style is distinctive, glorious, and carries a whole way of thinking that makes reading a joy.

The Happy Horse is a great example of a book about what you know. And knowing how much you don’t, so you can accept it and work with the process of learning. It is also a reflective book that makes the reader ask themselves questions. I asked myself how I would know if Bridget, my horse, was actually happy. I am still working on that answer, but now I am aware of it enough to ask.

This is not a ‘how to do horsemanship’ book, and Kindersley never claims it is. It’s a ‘how to start the human part of horsemanship’ book from someone who is in the trenches.

I happen to follow the same horsemanship method as Kindersley, Warwick Schiller Performance Horsemanship, so I can attest to the changes in attitude working through The Plan has had for me and Bridget. But I am not half as eloquent as Kindersley, and she captures the moments of revelation throughout the book with a vividness that draws the moments to you, under your skin.

But seriously, even if horses aren’t your thing, the prose itself is lovely and I regard it as a great example of authorial voice that is both clear and sweepingly beautiful. If someone asked me for an example of ‘stained-glass prose’, where the elegance of the language added depth rather than obscured it, I would offer Kindersley.