Reading for Writers: SPILLING INK

review_spilling_inkNow, if you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know that I used to do book reviews, and that I still occasionally recommend books to my readers.

Reviewing fiction is tricky for me these days. As my clients’ books get closer and closer to publication, I’d like to use this space to feature their work, since I’m deeply invested in their success. And so I hesitate to highlight the work of other authors unless I have a great reason to. That makes sense, right? Also, while I never made it a practice to rip books apart (If you’re just going to snark, why bother writing a review? Snark is all about showing off, not about communicating anything to your reader…), I don’t feel like I can be totally objective anymore. What if I have lukewarm praise for a book…and then want to work with that book’s editor? Oops. So I’ve been out of the fiction review game for a while and will stay out, unless I have something to recommend that I’m crazy about and that has a great lesson for writers in it.

However, enough writers have been asking me for book recommendations on the craft of writing that I thought I’d dive back into the review pool a little bit and recommend non-fiction.

On my bookshelves, I have fiction, picture books, graphic novels, and then a whole shelf of books about writing, both inspirational and informational. I think a shelf like this is essential to any writer or publishing professional. Not only do you want to read great writing, you want to read great things that smart people have said about creating great writing. So I’ll start writing recommendations for these types of books, since they’re so important. SPILLING INK by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter (with illustrations by Matt Phelan) is the newest book on my writing non-fiction shelf, and I absolutely love it.

You may be thinking, “Illustrations, eh?” Yes. This book is actually geared toward kids and teens who want to write. It’s touted as “A Young Writer’s Handbook.” But since we know that stuff geared toward kids and teens is just as rich and complex — and almost always more fun — than stuff geared toward adults, this book is a must read for writers of any age group.

Anne and Ellen gloss over a lot of the really nitty-gritty writing stuff, like POV definitions and fancy pants MFA terminology, but they really do strike at the heart of character and plot. And, best of all, they are personal counselor and mentor and cheerleader, rolled into one. Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter are widely published and beloved children’s book authors, both of them, and they pepper these pages with their own experiences, both uplifting and disappointing. It feels like they’ve opened up their hearts and their writing salon to aspiring writers, and they’re sharing the best and the most challenging of what they’ve learned on their writing journey.

The style of the book is warm and encouraging and effortlessly candid. I read it in one sitting and wished I had a crate of these to give away and to send out to all of my  novel-writing clients. Not that my clients need a How To manual, but I’m convinced that every writer, no matter what level, will glean something from this charming book, even if it is the refreshing feeling of two new writing friends, Anne and Ellen, rooting for you from behind this bright yellow cover.

Check it out today and stock, or start, your own writer’s bookshelf. If you’re seeking it out, the publisher is Flash Point/Roaring Brook, it came out in March, 2010, and the ISBN # is: 978-1596435148.

9 Replies to “Reading for Writers: SPILLING INK”

  1. Thanks for the tip~ since my older daughter is a budding writer, this sounds great for both of us!

  2. ooooh, sparkly new book. 🙂 it’s sounds perfect!

  3. Thanks, Mary, for this wonderful review! “It feels as if they’ve opened up their hearts and their writing salon to aspiring writers….” That sums up exactly what Ellen and I were after when we wrote the book. -Anne

  4. Thank you for giving me a new book for my shelf. I’m always looking for an instructor and a cheerleader. 🙂

    As an aside, I would love to see more and older books with illustrations. I think they could really add in books for all ages (I’m not an artist…but still).

  5. Aw, my shelf is full. Guess I’ll start a new shelf – this book sounds worth it.

  6. I picked this up on Monday and it was a great rec! I’d been struggling with making a character do what I wanted him to do, and when I read the section about pretending to sit down with a character and ask them about what they wanted most in the world it all sort of clicked!

    Nerdy as it is, I fished out a notebook and interviewed him in my head! I’m having to go in a different direction than I planned once I realized IC he would never do what I wanted, but I think my novel already seems better for it!


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