Monday, January 21, 2019

Senryu: Poetic Forms

When I looked over my revised list of poetic forms recently, I was surprised to see that senryu was not on there. It’s one of those forms I assumed was already covered. But I probably just mentioned the form while talking about haiku. So let’s look at senryu!

Senryu Poems

When most people write “haiku,” they’re actually writing senryu. That is because senryu follows many of the same standard rules as haiku without the reference to nature. For many, haiku is a three-line poem with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third and final line. And that’s that.

However, haiku masters would argue that there are other rules as well, including a cutting word, a juxtaposition of images, and a reference to nature (and a particular season). Most American haiku writers would also say that 5-7-5 syllables aren’t that important. And that three lines could easily be converted into one line.

Here are a few guidelines on writing senryu:

  • Three lines with the five-seven-five syllable pattern (or something similar)
  • Subjects tend to be related to human nature (as opposed to natural nature)–so romance, ironic human behavior, various relationships
  • Often, senryu try to spark a laugh or “knowing moment”

As with contemporary haiku, don’t get caught up as much on counting syllables. The main goal is to capture an image or moment in a concise way.


Master Poetic Forms!

Learn how to write sestina, shadorma, haiku, monotetra, golden shovel, and more with The Writer’s Digest Guide to Poetic Forms, by Robert Lee Brewer.

This e-book covers more than 40 poetic forms and shares examples to illustrate how each form works. Discover a new universe of poetic possibilities and apply it to your poetry today!

Click to continue.


Here’s my attempt at a Senryu:

numbers and letters, by Robert Lee Brewer

I never respond
when she sends me love letters–
they never add up


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He doesn’t believe senryu tend to have titles, but he added one anyway. Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.

The post Senryu: Poetic Forms appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

Friday, January 18, 2019

3 Key Novel Writing Tips: Wisdom from the Authors Speaking in the 2019 Virtual Conference for Novelists

Each January, we help writer’s launch and achieve their novel writing goals in our annual Virtual Conference for Novelists. This year’s event, running January 25-27, features six award-winning and best-selling authors who will share techniques for honing your craft skills, refining your characters, exploring the future of publishing, and getting the tools you need to advance your career in live presentations throughout the weekend.

Then, if you choose, participants can pitch your novel via a query letter to a literary agent. he agent will provide you with a personalized critique of your query—and maybe ask to see more.

Here’s a sneak peek at a few of the things you can expect to learn from this year’s presenters—plus a little bit about each of them:

3 Key Novel Writing Tips

David Corbett on Character Development

In David Corbett’s presentation “The Character of Plot,” writers will learn the key elements of internal need and conflict necessary to generate complex characters who can generate a compelling story.

Corbettis the award-winning author of six novels, including 2015’s The Mercy of the Night and the upcoming The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday, as well as the novella The Devil Prayed and Darkness Fell, the story collection Thirteen Confessions, and the writing guide The Art of Character. 

Check out some of his Writer’s Digest articles here:

Erica Wright on Setting

In Erica Wright’s presentation, “Setting the Scene: Using Place to Advance Your Story,” writers will learn how to seamlessly incorporate setting in a way that advances their stories.

Erica is the author of Instructions for Killing the Jackal (Black Lawrence Press) and the poetry chapbook Silt (Dancing Girl Press). Her poems have appeared in Blackbird, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Drunken Boat, From the Fishouse, New Orleans Review, and elsewhere. She is the Poetry Editor at Guernica Magazine and teaches creative writing at Marymount Manhattan College. Check out an interview with her here.

Tee Morris on Writing Effective Dialogue

In Tee Morris’ presentation, “Talk to Me: Writing Effective Dialogue,” writers will learn how to write compelling dialogue that keeps the action moving and readers reading.

Morris has been writing science fiction, fantasy, horror, and nonfiction for over a decade. His first novel, MOREVI: The Chronciles of Rafe & Askana, became the first novel to be podcast in its entirety, ushering in a the podcasting age for authors. He authored the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, penned with his wife, Pip Ballantine (who will also speak in the virtual conference). The series and its short fiction podcast, Tales From the Archives, has won several awards, including the 2014 Parsec Award for Best Science Fiction Anthology Podcast, the 2011 Airship Award for Best Steampunk Literature, and RT Reviews’ Choice Awards for Best Steampunk of 2014.

In addition to these three presenters, the 2019 Virtual Conference for novelists will include:

  • Handling Conflict in Fiction By Jeffrey Wilson
  • Crafting Characters Your Readers Will Love By Philippa Ballantine
  • and Supercharge Your Plot by Elizabeth Sims

Don’t miss this exciting virtual event! Learn more and register here.

The post 3 Key Novel Writing Tips: Wisdom from the Authors Speaking in the 2019 Virtual Conference for Novelists appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

WD Editor-at-Large Jessica Strawser Named 2019 Writer-in-Residence by the Cincinnati Library Foundation

If you’re a long-time Writer’s Digest reader, you’re well familiar with Jessica Strawser, our former Editor-in-Chief and current editor-at-large—and of course, author of three novels (the latest of which is due out in February of this year).

Naturally, the team was delighted to learn that Jessica has been selected by the Library Foundation of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to be its 2019 Writer-in-Residence. This prestigious role allows her to serve as the library’s literary ambassador to the community, fostering engagement with local writers and readers by providing online and in-person instruction on the craft of writing.

“We had many strong applications for the fifth Writer-in-Residence. Jessica’s experience and commitment to the literary community is outstanding,” Library Foundation Executive Director Staci Dennison said in a press release from the foundation. “We look forward to working with her this year to promote literacy in Cincinnati.”

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the program, which will be celebrated with a public panel discussion with Jessica and her Writer-in-Residence predecessors Kathy Y. Wilson, Jeffrey Hillard, Kurt Dinan and Emma Carlson Berne on Jan. 30 at the Main Library. (Locals can register here.)

“Thanks almost entirely to my long and varied career at Writer’s Digest, outreach to fellow writers has been a core part of who I am as a writer from the start,” Strawser told me via email. “We’re fortunate in Cincinnati to have a local library foundation that is second to none with its community outreach, and I’m honored and thrilled to have this opportunity to connect more directly now with aspiring writers and avid readers in my own backyard, through this amazingly generous program.”

Congratulations to Jessica! We’re all looking forward to seeing the impact she’ll make in this exciting role.

To absorb Jessica’s expertise from anywhere, you can tune into “Inside the Writer’s Head,” a podcast and blog that the Writer-in-Residence hosts throughout the year as part of the program.

The post WD Editor-at-Large Jessica Strawser Named 2019 Writer-in-Residence by the Cincinnati Library Foundation appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Imagination Unchained: BIRD BOX Author Josh Malerman on Film Adaptations, Theatrical Book Readings and More

Bird Box author and multidisciplinary creative Josh Malerman shares insights into his writing process, what it’s like having a story adapted for the screen, his unqiue theatrical book readings and more.

Anyone with a Netflix subscription (or with any internet contact whatsoever) is likely familiar with Bird Box, a harrowing post-apocalyptic horror/thriller film recently released through the video streaming service.

But many horror and thriller fans were already familiar with the book that preceded it, authored by the fascinating and prolific multidisciplinary creative Josh Malerman.

Malerman has written more than two dozen books—five of which have been published and another one of which, Inspection, is coming in April 2019—plus many short stories. He’s also a singer/songwriter, performing in the rock band The High Strung. That perfomance artistry extends to his elaborate, theatrical public readings, which you can learn about in Quilt of Delirium, a 2017 documentary all about Malerman. (You can and should watch it in full here.) The documentary notably explores Malerman’s uniquely theatrical and immersive book readings, which have involved blindfolding the audience, multiple performers, music, shadow art and more.

Malerman spoke at our annual conference in 2014 upon the release of the book, so we were delighted to catch up with him to learn what it’s been like having his book adapted for the screen, what he’s been writing and working on since then, and what’s next.

Warning: Minor spoilers for the book and movie ahead.

What was your initial writing, pitching and publication process for Bird Box like?

In 2006 I was renting the top floor of an old mansion in Detroit. The place was amazing, and the woman who owned (still owns) the house read the few rough drafts I’d done before Bird Box. I’d just wrapped a long story in a book of novellas—the book is called Goblin and the story “A Mix-Up at the Zoo”—and in that story there were long italicized dream sequences experienced by the story’s main character. I knew I wanted to write an entire novel that way, italicized, present tense, alternating timelines. All those factors together made “A Mix-Up at the Zoo” nightmarish to me, and I wanted a whole book like that.

So when the idea of a mother and two kids, blindfolded, navigating a river, came to mind, I wrote it in the same way I wrote that novella. The rough draft was insane—a madman’s draft. No indentations, no quotation marks, the whole thing was italicized (every word). It was twice as long as what the book is today, and there were 14 housemates instead of the seven or eight that we’ve got now.

I started Bird Box on Oct. 5, 2006, and wrapped it twenty-six days later on Halloween. We threw a party that night. It was incredible. At one point, the girl I was dating at the time, she got up and announced to the room that I’d finished a book that day. We all cheered and another friend got up and did a stand-up routine for us all. Two friends fell in love that night and are married today. It was magic.

From there, I didn’t shop the book. Just like I hadn’t shopped the few that came before it. Instead, I got on the road with my band mates and wrote the next one, and the one after that. Years later, around 2010, I’d signed on with a manager, Ryan Lewis, and I rewrote Bird Box with the intention of Ryan sending it to an agent. He sent it to Kristin Nelson, who picked it and me up, and she shopped it to many houses and in the end we went with ECCO HarperCollins.

You can imagine how thrilling this period was for me: By then I’d written a dozen or more novels and hadn’t shopped any of them only because I was in a band with my best friends touring the country and didn’t know exactly what to do with the books. I blindly believed they’d end up on shelves one day, but I had no idea how that was done. A few months after HarperCollins picked up the book, Ryan shopped her to producers who shopped her to Universal Studios and Universal optioned the film rights. This is 2012, 2013. Eric Heisserer wrote the script and the book came out in 2014, with this film momentum behind it. Netflix bought it all from Universal sometime later.

And now here we, gloriously, are.

What has it been like having your work adapted for the screen? Did you have much say in the development of it?

I didn’t have any say, and that’s totally fine and great by me. It was my first [published] book, and it was optioned before it came out… so talk about an unknown. I had nothing out yet. But I gladly handed it over. Because I wanted to see what someone else would do with it, you know?

Maybe it’s because I’m in a band and I’m used to bringing songs to the boys and watching them do whatever they want with them, but I like the idea of coming up with the story and having someone else turn it into a movie. Maybe not in all cases, there are some in which I’d like to be more involved, and it looks like that’s possible in a few other instances happening right now. But even if I’d made the movie of Bird Box, it wouldn’t be the book, so why not have it in Netflix and Susanne Bier and Sandra Bullock’s hands? I’ve been thrilled since day one, to see where it would go, and I adore the movie they came up with.


Notably, there were quite a few changes to characters in the film adaptation—minor characters added and altered, differences in the way deaths played out. What are your thoughts on those changes?

Again, I’m good with it all. While watching the movie, I got extra excited when I heard a character speak an actual line from the book, but Eric did such a great job and he has his own vision and so does everyone else involved and I’m just glad the story revolved around a blindfolded mother and her two blindfolded kids navigating a river, fleeing an entity they can’t look at.

For me, so long as the core idea is intact, I’m up for almost any change suggested on top of it. In this case, that’s exactly what happened. The book and movie share the core conceit, and so if there were some minor changes upon that premise? Great. I’m game.

[Online Course: Advanced Horror Workshop with Phil Athans]

I read that you wrote 14 novels before Bird Box. What became of those? Why was Bird Box the first one you pitched for publication?

Some of them have been published now. Of course I didn’t stop writing new ones when Bird Box got picked up. I didn’t see the book deal as the finish line but rather as day one of a new phase, the beginning of a career. So now I’ve written 28 books. Just wrapped one a few nights ago.

The question becomes, How am I going to get all of them out there—while writing new ones, too? Well, there are ways. Other formats, limited editions, maybe trim a shorter novel into a novella. I just need to keep my eye on that: ways to get them all out there, because they’re all as good or as bad as each other.

I liken them to 28 episodes of the same TV show. Of which I happen to be the silent host. Or maybe they’re 28 songs on an album. And I need to decide which song should follow Inspection which is the next book slated for publication through Del Rey, Penguin/Random House.

You’ve published quite a bit since Bird Box. Which work(s) would you say you’re most proud of?

That’s a hard question for me to answer. Wendy was the first one, so she’s got an untouchable place in my heart. The rough draft for Bird Box was electrifying. I felt really, really good about both Unbury Carol and Inspection upon completing them. And I just wrapped an 1,100-pager a few months back that I’m thrilled about, not just for it’s length, haha, but for the emotionality within it.

But when I think of the answer to this question, there is one book that comes up, flares up, in my mind. I’m very proud of one called Pest. In which a man sets out to trap an entity that he believes is zapping his lust for life. It’s based around horror-theater and playwrights and a young man losing his marbles in an apartment building. That one means a lot to me. But they all do. It has less to do with which one I think is the “best” and more to do with which ones marked special moments in my life.

How does your writing process differ among different story lengths—novels, novellas, short stories?

With the novels you’ve got to maintain the enthusiasm for the original idea for such a long stretch that I like to map it out, the words per day, how many days I think it’ll take, to get the rough draft done.

With the 1,100-pager I wrote only 1,000 per day. And while it sounds counterintuitive to write less a day for the bigger book, it was my way of ensuring that I didn’t run out of steam. Say, if I’d come out with 4,000 a day and wrote myself into a corner at 100,000… That sounded like a nightmare.

With the short stories I try to get the rough drafts done in a week or so. And the novellas seem to come from somewhere between these two processes. I can usually tell if the idea is a little bigger than a short, but not always. And sometimes if I see I’ve begun a novella, I’ll kind of sprint to the finish line, get the rough draft done, knowing how much is going to be involved with the rewrites. If I had to pick a favorite form… it’s the novel for sure.

Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post

Tell me about Quilt of Delirium. How did that come to be, and how has it impacted you and your career?

I was approached by this amazing guy here in town. Scott Allen had made a documentary on a photographer named Doug Coombe from the area [Detroit], and it was so well done and we all loved it. So when Scott approached me about doing one I was like, Absolutely, I’m in.

I was nervous, you know? How would I look? How would I come off? He told he was planning on interviewing my mom and the band. It was interesting because he first asked for a bullet-point list of events in my life that were meaningful to me. And while they didn’t all make it into the movie, it was cool to see how he pinpointed what he saw as the key people to interview. I was so glad my mom was involved.

And I love the movie. So much. What he did by way of animating the rough drafts and the music that was added by GOLAB. Scott’s the kind of guy you blindly trust, he’s got such good ideas and he’s great at communicating them. So I just trusted it was gonna be good and it surpassed my hopes by a long shot.

Here’s the soundtrack to the documentary, by the way.

As far how it’s impacted my career… well, I’m not sure how to quantify that. But I can say this: It was the first time I saw my own story told and it did a lot for me in terms of fortifying the philosophy of “just keep doing what you’ve been doing exactly like you’ve been doing it.” It sure doesn’t hurt to see your own story now and again.

You said in Quilt that you’re constantly writing “the next story”—”you finish one story, you start writing the next one.” How do you come up with all of these ideas?

I’m not sure. I think it has something to do with being open, constantly, to everything as an idea. Even this interview, this question, or the letters that make up the word “question” could be the basis for the scariest story ever told.

You also talked about the performative “reading” you did of Bird Box. For our readers, would you mind explaining how that came together and what you did for that?

So when Bird Box was edited and done and the cover art was in, HarperCollins told me I’d be going on a book tour. This scared me senseless. The idea of me standing at a podium, reading the book… It just didn’t feel right. Not theatrical enough. Not scary enough.

So the book is loaded with blindfolds, right? Why not blindfold the audience? That was the first thought, quickly followed by, hey, why not play scary soundtrack music and ask friends to play the roles of the characters from the book?

Each reading for each book has been more elaborate than the last. The readings for Unbury Carol are my favorite so far, insomuch as it’s become more variety show than reading. But we had Steve Greene (check his music out, omg) playing live for the reading of Goblin and Allison (my brilliant fiancée) did a ton of work with shadow play and costumes for Black Mad Wheel and so I just love them all. The reading we have planned for Inspection is something else and I cannot wait to put this together.

When Page Meets Stage: 10 Tips for Taking Public Readings of Your Work to the Next Level

What other authors or books have influenced your work?

Oh my. All of them. I went through a William Faulkner run where I could not get enough. I read some 17 of his books in a row. Virginia Woolf was a big deal to me. Huge. A lot of modern people, too. Stephen Graham Jones. John F.D. Taff.

I have a soft spot for the writers who were/are seemingly electrified. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is the closest thing I’ve ever encountered to Poe’s electricity. But I posted that once and a friend told me I needed to read Walt Whitman STAT. So I’m on it.

How does songwriting influence your novel writing practice? What about your other creative pursuits—performances, filmmaking, etc.?

It used to be that if the idea was big, it became a novel. If the idea was small? It became a song. Then I started writing short stories and the song output kinda suffered for that. Which is fine, because I like that I have some short stories now.

The biggest bond I’ve discovered between the two, music and books, is the rhythm behind both. In the case of the band, the rhythm is Derek Berk on drums and Chad Stocker on bass. But with the books it’s like there’s an invisible drummer in the office with me. A shirtless lunatic who sits down every time I sit down and starts wailing the second I start writing. The tricky part is when the drummer plays an abstract beat, like a prog thing, so when I come back to rewrite the book I have no idea where the 1 is.

Whatever I learned in the High Strung has been applied to everything else I do. Whether that’s not being so hard on yourself as a writer or working with a team or getting excited by the whole thing, each step, from rough draft to cover art to release.

But maybe most importantly, horror novels and little rock songs have a lot in common for me: They both come from the imagination unchained, with an arrested development that I hope me and my band mates never lose.

14 Resources for Writers Ready to Succeed

The post Imagination Unchained: BIRD BOX Author Josh Malerman on Film Adaptations, Theatrical Book Readings and More appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 467

For today’s prompt, write an expectation poem. The expectation could be realistic or unrealistic. It could be expecting a check or payment, expecting a visitor or acknowledgment, or just expecting a nice word. I expect to see some unexpected takes on this prompts.


Build an Audience for Your Poetry tutorialBuild an Audience for Your Poetry!

Learn how to find more readers for your poetry with the Build an Audience for Your Poetry tutorial! In this 60-minute tutorial, poets will learn how to connect with more readers online, in person, and via publication.

Poets will learn the basic definition of a platform (and why it’s important), tools for cultivating a readership, how to define goals and set priorities, how to find readers without distracting from your writing, and more!

Click to continue.


Here’s my attempt at an Expectation Poem:

“I Expect the World”

I expect the world,
but I’ll take your word

and create a dream
I can dream each night

hoping my hoping
turns out to be right.

I expect the world,
but I’ll take your hand

and hold the greatest
treasure in the land.


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He tries not to get hung up on expectations. Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.

The post Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 467 appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Tips for Writing About Controversial Topics in Fiction

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling novelist Bryan Gruley offers his best tips for writing about controversial topics—social, political and otherwise—in your fiction.

A few months ago, my friend Helene Cooper of The New York Times read an advance copy of my new novel, BLEAK HARBOR. She emailed me to say she liked the book and to ask, “Where do you come up with this shit?”

Good question for someone who has never been involved in pedophilia, sexual asphyxiation, suicide, or murder, except on the page. The rough answer is that the ideas for each of my first three novels were inspired by captivating non-fiction tales I had read and an actual tree in northern Michigan that is filled with shoes. My newest and fourth novel, BLEAK HARBOR, doesn’t have such specific lineage. But, partly by accident, it touches on themes that resonate in our national discussion.

I say “partly” because, while I intended to delve into the subjects of autism, legal marijuana and sexual harassment, I couldn’t have predicted when I started this book in 2012 that #metoo would blow up into a huge story over the past year. Writing novels that are “ripped from the headlines” can be risky if, to use another cliché, truth really is stranger than fiction. You can avoid that trap if you focus on making the real world your own. I have strived to do with some of the more topical matters that have found their way into my novels.

Defining autism (or not): Danny Peters, the 15-year-old boy who is kidnapped in BLEAK HARBOR, is on the spectrum. I could have done exhaustive research to create a supposedly definitive autistic character. But I didn’t believe such a character could exist, especially after my reading repeatedly suggested that there’s wide disagreement on what autism is, what might cause it, and how to deal with it. I set out instead to create a realistic 15-year-old boy who happens to have autism, a condition that in my imagination would yield some interesting details, such as Danny’s obsession with dragonflies. I didn’t want to be confined by the observations and arguments of others; I wanted Danny to be an adolescent boy first, an autistic one second.

#My #metoo: Early in the book, we learn that Danny’s mother has succumbed to her powerful boss’ sexual advances. It’s a #metoo encounter, although I conceived and wrote it at least a year before the outing of Harvey Weinstein. In retrospect I’m glad I wasn’t writing it in the middle of that tsunami of coverage. I might have treated it differently, perhaps been overly sensitive to what others might say about Carey and her furious reaction. While I loathe the character who exploits her, I also didn’t want to portray Carey as a helpless victim. She’s too strong a woman for that, despite her obvious flaws.


The WD Interview: Bestseller Jacqueline Woodson on Confronting Controversial Subjects & Writing Across Age Categories

Teens and tech: Like his peers, Danny is adept at social media. Naturally, this causes his mother concern, especially when she discovers after his abduction that he may have been in contact with his estranged and violent birth father. You could fill Amazon warehouses with the pages of copy that have been written about this subject over the past decade. Because my kids were all born in the 1980s, I experienced this only in the nascent phase of the web (14-year-old daughter out at 2:30 a.m. on an “Internet date”). I felt free to make things up at will and probably stretched the truth as I was writing, knowing that by the time BLEAK HARBOR was in print, whatever Danny did would probably be out of date. In other words, have fun with it. If you really think you can imagine some tech process or gizmo that hasn’t already been done, maybe you should stop writing books and start inventing things.

Perils of the (evil) legal weed: Danny’s stepfather Pete runs a legal marijuana shop that he expects will make him rich. He is mistaken. Some of what underlies Pete’s story is limned from my reporting of a non-fiction story for my daytime employer, Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. But a lot of it is, as some people say, “fake news.” When I was first writing the book, Michigan had not legalized any sort of marijuana, and recreational marijuana only became legal recently. But it’s my state and my town and I’ll do what I want with it. It’s fiction, after all, and if the topic is interesting enough—as I believe Pete makes his screwed-up pot shop—it doesn’t have to be as factual as the sun coming up in the east (after you’ve been up all night on edibles).

The bones of the matter: My third book, THE SKELETON BOX, was inspired by the murder of a nun in northern Michigan in the early 1900s. I first read about it in a short piece published in a history anthology I bought for five bucks at a convenience store. Later, a talented non-fiction author, Mardi Link, wrote an entire book, ISADORE’S SECRET, about the murder. I read parts of Link’s book, but stopped after a while because I was afraid of having the real-world facts take over my story. Better, I thought, to let some of those lurid details ignite my imagination and write my own version of Sister Janina’s death. I guess, when you’re writing truly fake news (i.e. fiction), it’s best to be truly fake.

Bryan Gruley is the critically acclaimed author of the crime fiction novel, BLEAK HARBOR (December 1, 2018; Thomas & Mercer), and the Anthony, Barry and Strand Award-winning author of the Starvation Lake mystery trilogy (STARVATION LAKE; THE HANGING TREE; and THE SKELETON BOX). A lifelong journalist, he is now a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek and is the recipient of numerous journalism awards including a shared Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks during his tenure with The Wall Street Journal. You can visit him at

The post Tips for Writing About Controversial Topics in Fiction appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

The 30 Book Challenge: Responding to Marie Kondo and Tidying Up

Are you ready for the 30 book challenge? If you haven’t seen it on social media yet, there’s a new meme making the rounds related to Marie Kondo and her Tidying Up show on Netflix. Apparently, she feels people ideally should have fewer than 30 books. Crazy, huh?

Now, I’ve got to admit I’ve watched a few episodes with my wife and kids. The overall premise of tidying up and cutting out clutter is actually pretty refreshing. And I enjoy learning a new way to fold clothes and organize my kitchen utensils. But I’ve also got to admit there’s no way I’m ever going to have fewer than 30 books in my house.

(Also, before you get too fired up at Kondo, check out this article that explains she believes there are times when it makes sense to keep more than 30 books.)

That said, let’s play a game in which we try to list out the 30 books we’d definitely keep. You can play along in the comments below or on social media with the #30BookChallenge hashtag. It’ll be fun (and probably painful)…but mostly fun (and mostly painful). I’ve included my list below (in no particular order).


Write a Breakout Novel in 2019!

Make this the year you write your breakout novel!

With the Write a Breakout Novel in 2019 collection, you’ll learn how to spot unrealized possibilities in your work, how to build on them and use them to create something truly remarkable. Not only will you ‘hook’ your readers, you will learn to develop captivating plots to keep them wanting more.

Whether you’re a first-time novelist looking for practical guidance or have already been published, this collection will take your fiction writing to the next level.

Click to continue.


The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Okay, this super slim book may be my absolute favorite. I’ve given copies to friends and family and read it every year or two (and always get something out of it). So yeah, this story of a man stranded in the desert with a prince from another planet is going to make the cut.

Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman

I’ve never read this book from cover to cover. But I’ve poem-jumped (new verb!) through it since high school. And since I have hundreds of poetry collections in my office, I know that I’m going to have to swing big with my poets.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare, by William Shakespeare

Am I cheating by including this huge volume of Shakespeare’s works? Probably, probably. But the rules are the rules, and I have a huge book that gets all my Shakespeare together in one place. Did I mention my youngest son is named after the Bard?

The Holy Bible, by Various Writers

I’m not here to tell anyone what they should or should not include on their own 30 book challenge lists, but the Bible makes mine easily. Even if you take faith out of the equation, which I admit is hard to do, this is a book filled with books (stories, advice, and even poetry).

Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson

I think everyone’s 30 book challenge list is (or should be) something deeply personal and specific to each lover of books. Such is the case for this novel/collection of short fictions by Anderson, who was born in Camden, Ohio. And yes, I may give it more credit for being by an author from my region. But truly, it is a great book too.

Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Some people may ask how I can put Cat’s Cradle on the same list as the Holy Bible. To them, I’d say that I’m just a complicated person. I don’t know that I really am. But I do recognize that I live in a complicated world with many complicated truths. I love Vonnegut’s stories, and this is probably my favorite.

As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner

Everything about this book is brilliant. The subject matter. The concise chapters with multiple narrators, including a chapter that just says, “My mother is a fish.” Even the title of the book is a sad statement and joke. For me, this is the best of Faulkner.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

I’ve always linked this novel to The Great Gatsby. Not because of subject matter, but because of the beautiful writing. For me, this novel wins the competition, though Gatsby is an amazing book (maybe THE Great American novel). But this is my list.

Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy

Speaking of beautiful writing, there are passages in Blood Meridian that just take my breath away. And that’s juxtaposed against a violent and chaotic world in which anything can happen at any moment. And when I finished it, I knew I’d read a great book.

‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King

Before I’d read anything by King, I was warned by multiple readers of The Shining. Great book. Scary, for sure. But the book that terrified me more than any other ever was ‘Salem’s Lot. As a writer, I love the framing device for this novel, but it’s really the vampires that got me.

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Great books spark great emotions! Lord of the Flies depressed me more than any other novel ever. And I read it later in life (after Orwell, Bradbury, and Huxley). For many, I’m sure that will keep this book off their lists. But it makes mine, though I may need to use The Little Prince as a chaser.

1984, by George Orwell

As long as we’re falling into a bottomless pit of despair, let’s break out this novel. As a hopeless romantic, 1984 beats out all other dystopian novels because of the relationship between Winston and Julia. Plus, this novel contributes several slick phrases still in use today like Big Brother, doublethink, and 2 + 2 = 5.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

I’m a sucker for a compelling narrator. For me, Holden Caulfield is a compelling narrator who hooked me from his opening 63-word sentence. He rambles, raves, and makes a fool of himself at times. But he’s also incredibly honest and human.

Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Speaking of novels that are incredibly honest and human, Watership Down reveals so much human nature in what I consider the greatest adventure story ever written. And he does it with a cast of characters that are mostly…umm…rabbits. But don’t let these cute and furry woodland creatures deceive you, the stakes are as high as they get in this novel.

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

A complicated love/ghost story in a foreign land? Sign me up. Each character appears caught in a trap between what they want and what they can conceivably obtain. And nothing is as easy as it could be, which is what kept me reading.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

A complicate love/ghost story in a foreign land? Seems like I just got done saying that. Oh yeah, but A Christmas Carol transcends romantic or obsessive love. In this novel, Ebenezer Scrooge learns to love his fellow travelers on the planet. There’s a reason why there are so many versions of this classic tale.

Selected Writings, by Edgar Allan Poe

Notice I didn’t specify stories OR poems. Because I have a collection that includes both! I’ve always loved Poe’s unreliable narrators and dark settings. But it’s a crime to overlook his incredibly lyrical and intricate poetry. Regardless of who he was as a person, Poe was a true master of writing.

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

I admit that it was a challenge to figure out which Steinbeck novel I’d pick. There are so many good ones. But I chose Of Mice and Men, because I love the simple and complicated relationship between Lennie and George. And if there’s a more tragic story, I don’t know what it is. Plus, rabbits!

Selected Poems, by Anne Sexton

This 30 book challenge is tough! It hurts my head and heart (and soul) to pick one poet over another, but Anne Sexton works her way on my list. I’m not even going to start naming the poets I had to snub, because that list alone is more than 30. But my list has probably already revealed that I like romantic writing and dark writing, and Sexton does both.

Selected Poems and Letters, by Emily Dickinson

From one Massachusetts poet to another, I suppose. Dickinson is a champion of all writers who claim to “write for themselves.” She published fewer than a dozen poems during her lifetime. It wasn’t until a few years after her death that a collection appeared, and she’s remained in print ever since.

Ship Fever, by Andrea Barrett

I love a great short story. And there are so many collections I had to leave off this list (Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse, Hemingway’s In Our Time, Moore’s Birds of America, Joyce’s Dubliners, and so many more). In Ship Fever, I love the history, the science, and the stories. These are worlds I enter and wish I didn’t have to leave.

The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris

This poetry anthology sticks out for me because of the time AND destinations covered. So many nationalities and voices are represented in this collection, and I often turn to it when I want to find a fresh voice or perspective.

Solving the World’s Problems, by Robert Lee Brewer

Is it bad that I’m including my own book on this list? Maybe. Okay, probably. But hey, it’s my list, and I have more than 40 unique books on my shelves with my name on the spine…so I’m going to pick the one that I care about the most. And it’s this slender selection of lyric poems. I apologize for the faux pas.

The Harry Potter series (all 7 books), by J.K. Rowling

I thought about picking one or two of the books. But they build on each other in a way that I feel like I’m doing a disservice to cut any of them out. So they’re all included, and all of a sudden I have my 30 books. Say what?!?


Going through this process confirmed something that I already knew to be true. There’s no freaking way I’d ever be able to do this in real life. I’m all for cutting down on my clothing, the junk in my garage, and appliances in the kitchen. But things are going to get real if you try taking my books.

That said, which books made your 30? Or do you think you can cut it down even more? Let me know in the comments below or on social with the #30BookChallenge hashtag.


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community, specifically working on the Market Books,, and maintaining the Poetic Asides blog. He loves his books, whether they’re on shelves or stacked in random piles around his house. Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.

The post The 30 Book Challenge: Responding to Marie Kondo and Tidying Up appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –