Ten Books for Writers
Learn to Write By Reading
It's no secret that most writers also love to read. And it's true that you can learn a lot about the craft of writing by reading about what has worked for others and what hasn't. Here is a list of ten books that I have found particularly informative and helpful for my own writing.
1: Stephen King's On Writing
I first read this book in early 2003, and it still comes to mind as one of the most useful books on the craft of writing that I've ever read. The fact that it is written by bestselling author Stephen King certainly does heighten my opinion of it. After all, King is bestselling, meaning he knows what it takes to make writing work.
This relatively short, easy-to-read book contains loads of useful information for beginning writers. It includes a list of books by other authors that he found helpful, writing exercises, and an example of how he proofreads and edits his own work.
The main pieces of advice that stayed with me through the years are: take some time out of every day to write something and take out any words that don't need to be there, a piece of advice he picked up from the next book on the list.
2: Strunk & White's Elements of Style
Recommended by King and scores of other professional writers, this is a must-have for anyone who writes. This style guide is full of information to help you write more clearly and professionally.
It discusses common writing mistakes concerning grammar and punctuation, but it goes beyond that to explain why the paragraph is such an important unit of prose and why writing in an active voice is always so much better than writing in a passive voice.
True, I have never read this book in its entirety, and you may not choose to, either, but still, it remains an invaluable reference tool. I can quickly skim through it and find most of the answers to my writing style questions. Following the instruction in this book is almost sure to improve anyone's writing.
3: Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write
This is quite simply one of the most inspirational books for writers I have ever read. And since it has been in print since 1938, a lot of people must agree.
Ueland's language is a little strange to the modern ear at first, but the reader easily gets past it and begins to soak up the rich information stored in the book's pages. Her main goal in this book is to try to convince you that anyone can write. You don't have to have a huge amount of natural talent. You just have to want to write. And if you want it badly enough, you will be able to do it, once you free yourself from the self-doubt that plagues so many writers - new and accomplished.
I especially enjoyed her writing exercises and the writing samples she showed from the students in her writing classes. None of these people were professional writers, and many of them didn't even think they were very good, but their journal writing shows otherwise. Ueland is a firm believer that every writer should keep a journal and should write something in it every day, preferably before you do anything else that might interfere with your creative mind. Soon, you will be surprised at how good your writing can be when you just give yourself the freedom to write.
4: Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
Brande's book is similar in tone to Ueland's book, which is not surprising, since it was written in the same time frame, first published in 1934. Brande didn't think writers needed another book about the craft of writing. She felt they needed help to get over themselves and just start writing. All the exercises in this book are geared toward this goal.
Brande notes the importance of scheduling a set time every day for your writing, and she warns that you must not let anything interfere with that writing time. It would be too easy to just let it slide and not get back to it at all that day, and then it would be all that much easier to let it slide the next day. This is absolutely the worst thing an aspiring writer can do to him/herself.
I especially liked her advice about putting your coffee in a thermos, so you have it ready and waiting for you in the morning. Of course, these days we don't have to do that because we have programmable coffee makers that make sure the coffee is ready whenever we are. The point is: don't use up valuable writing time making, or drinking, your coffee.
5: Writing Fiction For Dummies by Randy Ingermanson
I have long been a fan of Randy Ingermanson and his Snowflake Method for writing a novel. So, when I found out that he had recently published a fiction writing book for the popular "Dummies" series, I decided I would give it a try. This book, written in the easy-to-understand, informative tone in which most of the Dummies books are written, did not disappoint.
Ingermanson and fellow writer Peter Economy take you from the beginning story idea straight through to marketing the completed manuscript. Most of the information is not new, but all of it is helpful.
I especially enjoyed the chapters: Four Ways to Write a Great Novel, where the authors make the point that it really doesn't matter whether you plan your novel in detail or not, you just need to do what works for you; and Ten Reasons Novels Are Rejected, which includes common mistakes writers make when it comes to marketing their writing and provides ways to overcome them.
By the end of this book, you should have a much better idea of what works and what doesn't when it comes to writing and marketing yourself.
6: Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway
I bought this book for an online course I signed up for at Writer's Village University, and while I'm still wondering if the course was actually worth the money, I know the book was.
This book is one of the most widely used and respected textbooks on the craft of writing in existence today. The writing itself is a little thick and scholarly at times, but the information contained inside the book is well worth wading through the language.
It includes tips to get you started writing and tips to improve on the writing you have done. Start to finish, this book has you covered.
I love the writing exercises Burroway includes in her book to get you writing. You can see an example of one here. I know, if you read this book and apply the information contained within it, you will find that your writing is greatly improved.
7: Jerry Cleaver's Immediate Fiction
Jerry Cleaver is a successful ghostwriter and founder of the Writer's Loft, Chicago's oldest, most successful writing workshop.
In this book, Cleaver states that anyone can be a writer, even if you don't have a lot of time to put toward it. He claims that if you write for five minutes every weekday and twenty minutes on Saturday and Sunday, you will have an almost complete novel at the end of a year.
Immediate Fiction contains helpful writing exercises and useful time management tips. It even tells you what to do with your first draft when it's complete and includes strategies for marketing your completed manuscript.
8: So You Want to Write by Marge Piercy & Ira Wood
This short, easy-to-read book was written by a prolific writer and an accomplished writer/publisher.
It offers the standard fare for writers: developing a plot that will see your story through to completion; creating believable, intriguing characters, and several writing exercises.
What sets it apart, however, is the information it provides about techniques for writing short stories and even memoirs. It is not focused on fiction alone. In fact, Marge Piercy is quite well known for her own memoir writing, so this is again an example of being able to learn from someone who has been there, done that.
You also won't want to miss the chapter, the 10 Most Destructive Things Writers Can Do.
9: Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
Donald Maas is a literary agent and author of 17 novels. His client list includes notable authors Anne Perry and James Patterson, so you can be sure that this guy has a good idea what keeps a manuscript out of publishers' slush piles.
In his book. Maas discusses the things that all breakout novels have in common: an effective sense of time and place and how it works in your story; how to develop larger-than-life characters; how to keep your story's conflict going strong for the entirety of the novel; how to weave sub-plots believably into the main action; and how to introduce universal themes into your writing to appeal to a wider audience.
Maas also includes information about how to make yourself stand out (in a good way) to agents and publishers and on what to do after you sell your hit novel, including how to turn into a series.
10: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
This book by author/writing instructor Goldberg is not very focused on the craft of writing. Its main focus is on inspiring the writer within all of us to trust our own minds and create a confidence in our experience that shines through in our writing.
This is a really enlightening, entertaining read, as evidenced by some of the chapter titles: Man Eats Car; Writing Is Not a McDonald's Hamburger; Baking a Cake; Don't Marry the Fly; Be An Animal; Writing in Restaurants; and Blue Lipstick and a Cigarette Hanging Out of Your Mouth.
Goldberg's book includes many exercises that will get you thinking and writing, and her light, conversational tone will have you captivated from beginning to end.
Don't Just Read - Start Writing!
I really do believe that you will learn quite a bit from reading each and every one of these books, but it is important to remember that to be a writer, you must write. Put down the book and get in front of your computer or your pencil and notebook and start putting some of your thoughts down on paper - any thoughts.
Writing is a creative art, just like performing music. When I was taking voice lessons in college, I was supposed to practice 90 minutes every day, and that was just at the college level. My husband wants to be a professional trumpet player, and his instructor told him that he should be practicing at least 5-6 hours every day.
With that in mind, think about what your goals for your writing are. Are you just a hobbyist, or do you actually hope to make a living at it someday? Consider how much time you will need to put into writing every day to accomplish your goals, and start doing it!