Monday, July 9, 2018

What is a craft book, blog, or podcast that has changed the way you write? (With Jonathan Friesen!)

Today we have a very special guest, Jonathan Friesen. I (Jill) met Jonathan when Blink/HarperCollins sent us on a book tour several years back. He is a wonderful speaker, who grabs the attention of everyone in the room in no time at all. And his books are fabulous. I read his first book, Jerk, California, long before we ever met, and I highly recommend it. But first, a little bit about the author:

Jonathan Friesen is an author, speaker, and youth writing coach from Mora, Minnesota. His first young adult novel, Jerk, California, received the ALA Schneider Award. When he's not writing, speaking at schools, or teaching, Jonathan loves to travel and hang out with his wife and three kids. Read more at

And now, about Jerk, California: This Schneider Family Book Award winner changed the face of Tourette's Syndrome for modern teens. Wrought with tension, romance, and hope, Jerk, California tells the story of Sam, who sets out on a cross-country quest to learn the truth about his family and his inherited Tourette's Syndrome, along the way finding both love and acceptance.

We are so honored to have Jonathan with us this week. Let's get right to today's panel question:

What is a craft book, blog, or podcast that has changed the way you write?

Jonathan: I haven’t seen many craft books that are truly transformational. Most are filled with good advice, but do not practically move a writer from Point A to Point B. Writing the Breakout Novel (and the workbook by the same name) by Donald Maass does just that. The book introduces fifty fascinating writing exercises that help an author add tension to every page. For me, that is what I needed. I have no problem with story openings, and I do not struggle much with endings. But how do I keep the reader engaged after chapter four? You know, after the big start. How do I keep the middle pages from sinking into emotional quicksand? That is what this book explains. Highly recommended.

Stephanie: K.M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors podcast was critical in me figuring out how to fix Within These Lines back when I was drafting it. I knew something was wrong with the book, But couldn't figure it out until I was listening to an episode about story structure. She said:

"Anton Chekhov’s famous advice that 'if in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired' is just as important in reverse: If you’re going to have a character fire a gun later in the book, that gun should be introduced in the first act. The story you create in the following acts can only be assembled from the parts you’ve shown the reader in this first act. That’s your first duty in this section."

That was when I realized that the second half of my book wasn’t working because I hadn’t laid the groundwork I needed in the first half. Light bulb! That has changed the way I think about creating stories.

Shan: I use the Go Teen Writers book in every class I teach for teen writers. And, hand on my heart, I don’t get a dime when a book is sold. Steph and Jill did such a fantastic job with it though, and it’s my favorite resource for new writers. On the podcast front, I’ve been branching out. You all know I adore Writing Excuses, but lately I’ve really enjoyed listening to 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop. Give it a go and report back. I bet you learn something.

Jill: I think of craft books in periods of my writing journey. When I was first starting out, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King taught me SO MUCH. That book was one “Ah ha!” after another. So it changed the way I wrote because I didn’t really know how to write back then.

More recently, the craft book that has had the biggest impact on changing the way I write is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, which I talk about ALL THE TIME, so I’m sure you’re like, “Yes, Jill. We know.”  But if you don’t know, Save the Cat is a screenwriting book that taught me to storyboard. It taught me a lot of other things about story and structure too, but the storyboarding is what I took from that book and adapted into my writing process, and it has saved my neck so many times, especially when I needed to fix broken books or cut massive amounts of words.

What about you? What's a craft book, blog, or podcast that has changed the way you write? Share in the comments.


  1. Thank you so much for being with us, Jonathan! I ADORE that Donald Maass book and totally agree with your comments on it. It really is transformational. I didn't realize there was a workbook. Definitely need to check that out.

  2. Ooh thank you for all the great resources! And yes, Jill, I know you love Save the Cat, but I still need to read it. Hopefully I can get a copy soon. :)

  3. Jonathan, Writing The Breakout Novel and the workbook were a HUGE part of my early education as a writer. Those books taught me so many things! Thanks for being with us this week!

  4. Maass' Emotional Craft of Fiction changed my life; K.M. Weiland's blog Helping Writers Become Authors (.com) outstanding.

  5. For me it was Stephen King's On Writing. I don't like every book King has written, but he has written some damn good ones. King's plain-spoken, nuts and bolts advice, helped demystify the craft and get me thinking, "I could do this."

  6. Go Teen Writers blog, K. M. Weiland's blog and are amazing writer blogs! They have helped me so much! Also, Did God put a Book in You? By Jerry Ross. For youtube, my favorites are Kristen Martin and Kim Chance!

  7. Hi Jonathan! *waves happily* It's so cool to see you here, at the origin of the Tricky Seven! I've been wanting to get my hands on that book for ages but never have. Now I have more motivation though :) Thanks for the advice!