Week One of my Be-A-Better-Writer Reading Plan

I’m one week into my Be-A-Better-Writer reading plan and I already feel like a better writer. I’m learning a few things and I feel intentional, which is my favorite kind of feeling.

Plus, I really like coloring my notes with my gel pen set. I underline and star and copy thoughts into my notebook and then go back and circle and underline even more in color. Plus, some pages of my journal have little coloring breaks—


Reading six writing books each day is a bit like having six teachers hanging out in my office with me. I like some more than others. I find myself looking forward to opening some (Writing Down the Bones, The Art of Memoir), forcing myself to read others because I know it’s good for me (Fire in Fiction, A Writer’s Guide to Persistence), and having mixed emotions about the other two because while they captivate me with their engaging style, every now and again they irritate me (Story Genius, Fierce on the Page).

Some of the writers feel like old friends I’d love to meet for a beer and commiserate with about the sad state of the publishing industry. Others feel more like the teacher I had in third grade who was really pretty and let us watch Electric Company during class, but also scared the shit out of me and rendered me mute with her wicked brilliance and condescending confidence.

Story Genius is probably pushing me the most. It’s making me question the framework of the story I wrote this fall.

Fire in Fiction is making me examine the characters in that story. Although Fire in Fiction is also the book I’m least inclined to open if I’m sleepy or unmotivated. Maass uses TONS of examples from books I haven’t read which is frustrating because my sad little brain is overwhelmed with sorting out the story he’s quoting instead of the point he’s making. It’s exhausting. Add to that my feeling of inadequacy because I haven’t read so many of his examples. If I was a real writer, I would have read them, right?

Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones is usually either the dessert after a good study session or the motivator to convince me to start a study session. She’s crazy positive and not in a sugary-sweet-naïve-Pollyanna kind of way, but more in a wise-friend-who-knows-you-have-it-in-you-to-do-this kind of way.

And since I’m wading through an entire stack of books, I truly appreciate that she is so concise. Each chapter is only a page or two. She makes her point with personal illustrations and then pokes your heart a little to get you thinking. I’m certain I would like her if I met her in person.

Can’t say the same for Donald Maass. He intimidates me.

I wish he’d just say what he’s saying. Instead, he pulls out yet another book/scene/character to illustrate what he’s saying and assumes I’ll understand (which is a toss up. Sometimes it’s clear as day and sometimes it’s as murky as puddle-water, but either way I’m too distracted trying to figure out if I’ve read the book he’s citing or if I’d like to).

Clearly he has an enlarged brain or some bizarre condition that allows him to retain so many stories/plots/characters. I find it hard to even remember the ending of most movies I watch, let alone the name of a character, which is why I seem to find myself turning to my husband, thirty minutes into every Netflix movie to say, “Haven’t we seen this before?”

Instead of pointing out that this exact same thing happened the last time I picked the movie and I must have sieve for a brain, he’ll say, “I just thought you wanted to see it again.” (this is how we stay married)

If I manage to scrape together the money to go the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Retreat next fall where Lisa Cron, of Story Genius will be the speaker, I’m not sure I will be able to speak to her. I love her voice, so of course this means I will love her. (I’m being sarcastic, but I love a writer who can sound so authentic on the page. Most likely she’ll look/sound/be nothing like I’m imagining.)

Story Genius is genius, and I read along for the first few chapters all happy and in love, but then wow, out of the blue she completely SLAMMED the idea of pantsing. Full confession: I’m a pantser from way-back, so that stung.  For me pantsing works. It’s how I write. I live on a months-long high when I am in the midst of drafting a new novel. The few times I’ve attempted to outline/plot/plan, I find myself bored out of my skull by page twenty. It feels like paint-by-number. I have to say, though, I believe Natalie Goldberg would have my back here. She quotes no less than Robert Frost – “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” So maybe, if I do make it to Arizona for the retreat, I’ll just hide in the back of the room and try to look innocent and channel Natalie.

Most of the notes I’m copying out of A Writer’s Guide to Persistence are just reinforcing habits I already have. I’m a true believer in persistence being the most important component for success. One of my favorite writers ever, Richard Bach (and if you haven’t read Bridge Across Forever you’ve missed out on one of the all-time best love stories EVER), said, “Professional Writers are just amateurs who didn’t quit.” I hold fast to those words. I won’t quit. Ever. I can’t. I have to write.

My favorite note I copied into my journal from all my reading this week comes from A Writer’s Guide to Persistence:

“If your burning reason to write is because it makes you happy or releases the wild voices from your head or helps you analyze the world around you, you are exactly where you are supposed to be.”

Yes, I believe, I am right where I belong.


(Just in case you’re curious – here are the books chosen for this winter’s Be-A-Better-Writer Reading program:

Story Genius by Lisa Cron

Fire in the Fiction by Donald Maass

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld

Fierce on the Page by Sage Cohen


Author: Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and dog rescuer. I live in the darling town of Woodstock, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley with my husband and three rescue dogs (who rescue me on a daily basis). Find more information about my books, my dogs, and all my writing adventures at CaraWrites.com.

One thought on “Week One of my Be-A-Better-Writer Reading Plan”

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: