Or How To Learn Anything Fast
Last November, I finished the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo ) challenge successfully with 50,000 words. I knew it was just a start. It was a brain dump – a hazy idea of what could later be sculpted and crafted into a novel.
But what next?
I was a bit lost. Yes, I’ve read a lot over the years, but haphazardly. I didn’t have a great books list. I knew I liked fantastical stories and really resonated with HG Wells, Jules Verne, William Gibson and Kafka. I also love the magic realists Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Italo Calvino. I also just love the wonder of Ray Bradbury, the adventures of Robinson Crusoe and the characterizations of Dickens. But I felt like I was trying to write a rock song having never heard Elvis. Or a symphony without knowing Beethoven. I didn’t have enough context.
I went to NYU for music and missed out on a lot of the great history and literature courses. I always felt that was a mistake and am thrilled to finally be correcting that. So I began searching for the 10,000 foot view. I usually look for the meta book, the one that will give me the greatest context.
I found a lot about writing mindset and technique which are great. But for historical context, I’ve found nothing quite matches the Great Courses (formerly called the Teaching Company). Thesea are college classes online which you can download to your smartphone or have on DVD, or CD.
So over the last few months, I’ve been inhaling vast quantities of method books, college lectures, historical overviews and source materials. Here’s a partial list of my consumption. I hope you find it helpful.
- Story by Robert McKee – the classic. I read it over 10 years ago and recently repurchased as audio book. McKee is an actor and he really brings to life his sage wisdom. Highly recommended.
- Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell – I’ve had this in my collection for over 10 years when I was originally creating a libretto for an original opera. That project is still gestating. But what a great book.
- The Creative Penn podcast by Joanna Penn – Joanna is an inspiration for all writers. I’ve discovered many great resources on her podcast including Dave Farland – see below.
- Heroes, Gods and Monsters by Bernard Evslin – A great book that retells the old mythological tales.
- Greek Tragedy by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver – a little dry at times, but a fast overview.
- Some short video clips from great writers like Robert McKee, Salman Rushdie, Paul Auster, Jonathan Safran-Foer, and others. Good for a quick hit of inspiration.
- Story Engineering by Larry Brooks – I like how Larry has made this easier to visualize. You can also see hitpoints in every story, film, novel, whatever, based on his engineering blueprints.
- History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective – Professor Gregory S. Aldrete – If I’m going to be creating fantastical fictional worlds, I better know what the real history has been. This course is wonderful and well presented. 48 half hour lectures which you can binge on as you work out or clean the house.
- Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature -Professor Thomas A. Shippey – Wow! Shippey actually went to school with Tolkien and he discusses so many of the great characters of the world from Bilbo Baggins to Sherlock to Beowulf to Harry Potter. Loved it.
- Million Dollar Outlines by Dave Farland. Dave has taught writing to so many successful authors and makes so much sense in this book. I also heard his podcast interview at the Creative Penn. I was so impressed, I enrolled in his online course. See below.
If you have any suggestions to add, I’d be happy add them to the list. Write in the comments below.
And, if you find any of these helpful, some of them contain affiliate links so I receive a small commission. Just so you know.
Thanks for reading!