Essential Books for Writers
Writers do not have some magical super power that allows the first thing they write to be a beautiful masterpiece. However, when it comes to creative writing, there seems to be this illusion that writers can just sit down and let the Next Great American Novel pour out of their souls. Writers take years to hone their craft: they continually revise, workshop and discuss their pieces, and study works of other writers. What better to study than writers who have written about writing? Here is a list of essential books for writers at every stage of the process.
Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly by Gail Carson Levine
This is a great book for getting started. In fact, one of the first chapters is actually entitled “Getting Started”. Gail Carson Levine, author of countless children’s and young adult books, as well as the recipient of the Newberry Honor, offers fun writing prompts to inspire our inner writer. Levine dedicates a lot of her time giving writers tips to break through writer’s block and how to handle the feeling of being stuck. Most importantly, she addresses the little voice in the back of our head that makes us doubt ourselves, and then lists exercises that will help shut up that little voice. Known for her strong characters – remember Ella from Ella Enchanted? – Levine’s understanding of character shines through as she offers advice how to create characterization through dialogue and create realistic motives and reactions. This is a great read for anyone who loves writing and just needs some help taking the first step.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Anyone who has ever been afraid of drafting, this is the book for you. In fact, she has a whole chapter dedicated to “Shitty First Drafts”, where she acknowledges that horrible first drafts are necessary. She states that the first draft is like a child’s draft where you can allow yourself to write freely whatever comes to mind without worrying about how it sounds. Lamott advises writers to write more than what’s needed in order to find what’s important. Later, after the words are on the page, you can sift through what’s necessary and what’s not. Bird by Bird focuses on taking things one step at a time and not getting overwhelmed by the work in front of you. It was inspired by a memory of her younger brother who had to write a report on different types of birds for school and had procrastinated until the very last day. Paralyzed with anxiety on trying to finish the essay in a day, his father told him to just write, “Bird by bird,” lending its title to Lamott’s guide to writing.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
The title of this book alone shows the importance the power of one comma. It is a great read to make writers appreciate grammar and editing. Although, Truss writes on a subject that might make some writers cringe – because, let’s face it, we would rather focus on plot or characters than punctuation – she does it with such a sense of humor that keeps readers engaged. She has countless zingers like, “No matter that you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, ‘Good food at it’s best’, you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave,” or, “Why did the Apostrophe Protection Society not have a militant wing? Could I start one? Where do you get balaclavas?” If you are a writer who dreads editing and is still perplexed by grammar, this is a great book to get you through the editing process by offering you a swift kick in the pants. Despite all of her humor, Truss is very serious about the significance of punctuation: “Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking.”
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
When exploring the fiction craft, who better to turn to than authorial legend Stephen King? In On Writing, King explains the effect writing has had on his life and intertwines advice about the writing craft with the story of his own rise to becoming one of the most commercially successful writers of all time. This book is great for aspiring writers and fans of King alike. His biggest advice to writers is to read. After all, “You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” His advice for writers may be a little intimidating: he says that all novels should be written in no more than three months in order to keep the story fresh. Although the idea alone might strike fear into the hearts of writers everywhere, King provides ample inspiration for getting started, motivation to keep writing, and descriptions of the ideal writing environment: “So okay― there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”
Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch
Let’s not limit these essential books just to works about writing fiction. There are equally amazing books out there about the craft of poetry. In this book which is part guide to writing poetry and part anthology of great poems, critically acclaimed poet Kenneth Koch explains that the most important part of poetry is the effect it has on its readers. Koch offers his readers tools to improve their own poetry, combined with notable poets who exemplify what he is teaching. It gives readers the chance to learn about the use of certain poetry conventions and the development of modern poetry. In fact, he believes that poetry is its own separate language – not just special treatment of an existing one. Even for writers who do not consider themselves poets, this book is worth a look to pique one’s interest and appreciation of poetry.
First You Write: The Worst Way to Become an Almost Famous Author and the Best Advice I Got While Doing It by Joni Rodgers
This eBook by New York Times Bestseller Joni Rodgers is only 57 pages. When asked why she kept the book so short, she said because the best writing advice she got was very brief, “Stop kvelling and get back to work.” The publication of this little book caused quite a stir because Rodgers, backed by a major literary agency and her success, chose to publish it through an indie publishing company because she thought it was most fitting for this particular work. She discusses where she sees the publishing industry going and what that means for new or emerging writers. She encourages writers to maintain their artistic integrity by experimenting in their work and exploring their inspirations and motivations for writing. According to Rodgers, “What sells a book sells a book, same in traditional or self-publishing. You gotta shake your tail feathers.”
These books are useful, but the best way for writers to learn their craft is through reading as often as they can. Reading and writing are so interdependent that, according to Stephen King, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” So, go pick up one of these books and start writing.
“Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” Goodreads. Goodreads Inc., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015
“Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.” Goodreads. Goodreads Inc., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015
“First You Write: The Worst Way to Become an Almost Famous Author and the Best Advice I Got While Doing It.” Goodreads. Goodreads Inc., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015
“Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry.” Goodreads. Goodreads Inc., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015
“On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” Goodreads. Goodreads Inc., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015
“Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly.” Goodreads. Goodreads Inc., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015
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