So many writing books; so little time. Here are the titles that helped shaped us as writers.
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The Writing Books We Love
I'm a big fan of the Donald Maass books WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL and FIRE IN FICTION. I also like John Dufresne's THE LIE THAT TELLS A TRUTH. Of course, BIRD BY BIRD is also an old standby. I keep these handy and pick them up when I'm stuck or getting ready to revise. I have flagged most of the pages, it seems.
I also rely on novels to help me understand the craft and art of telling a story. Maybe it's all my years as an English teacher, but picking up my old favorites--TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or THE THINGS THEY CARRIED or Steinbeck or Faulkner help me remember that the parts all have to add up to a bigger whole--and I want to help the reader fall in love with my characters and their story.
Favorite writing/craft books:
BIRD BY BIRD - by Anne Lamott - An inspirational and funny book for writers.
HOOKED - by Les Edgerton - How to hook your readers from page one and never let them go.
WRITERS WORKSHOP IN A BOOK - THE SQUAW VALLEY COMMUNITY OF WRITERS ON THE ART OF FICTION
THE RESILIENT WRITER: TALES OF REJECTION AND TRIUMPH FROM 23 TOP AUTHORS - by Catherine Wald - not really a craft book, but it's comforting to read these frank accounts on facing rejection.
Do I have to write in paragraph form for this one, or can I just make a list? A really, really LONG list? Well, let me just say first that I LOVE writing/craft books. I collect them like some people collect coins or stamps or those clunky pewter beer steins. I love the idea that one of them might hold "the answer" to my mystifying plot problem or my character's gaping backstory... So, here's the short list, but come visit me sometime. You'll find more on my shelves: SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES (Blake Snyder), STORY (Robert McKee), ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN (Elizabeth Berg), ON WRITING (Stephen King), ON BECOMING A NOVELIST (John Gardner), BIRD BY BIRD (Anne Lamott), MAKING A LITERARY LIFE (Carolyn See), THE COURAGE TO WRITE (Ralph Keyes), TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER (Dwight Swain), WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL (Donald Maass), WRITER'S GUIDE TO CHARACTER TRAITS (Linda Edelstein) and -- my latest find -- 45 MASTER CHARACTERS (Victoria Lynn Schmidt).
I don't read that many books about the craft of writing because I'm so afraid I'll learn that I'm doing things all wrong! Okay, that and the fact that I gravitate toward fiction when I read, and I so enjoy discovering new authors and their novels. But I did buy and read Stephen King's ON WRITING, and I loved it! I think once you read that, you know there's no wrong way to do anything.
Best two writing books - BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott and On Writing by Stephen King.
These are my four favorites that I read over and over:
MAKING A LITERARY LIFE: ADVICE FOR WRITERS AND OTHER DREAMERS by Carolyn See
ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN: THE ART OF WRITING TRUE by Elizabeth Berg
BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE by Anne Lamott
ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT by Stephen King
THE WRITER'S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler is invaluable for those times when a writer is compelled to plot out a synopsis before writing the actual book. I also recommend THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING by Lajos Egri. Oh, and here's a piece of trivia: My debut novel THE THIN PINK LINE and I are mentioned in Donald Maass's WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL
Two favorite books: For pure craft, SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Browne and King is the best. I re-read this every year or so, just to keep on my toes. For a combination of craft and a great sense of what it is to BE a writer, BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott. Some things in her book are out of date (for example, she says that once you’re published you’re pretty much guaranteed to be published for as long as you want, and that’s simply not true these days). But mostly she gets it right, and makes you laugh and cry, both.
Without a doubt Stephen King's ON WRITING. LOVED it and to this day I happily avoid adjectives /adverbs at all costs ;-) hehehe
I have been a novelist for fifteen years and each time I get started on a new manuscript, I dig out my trusty guides and review, review, review. My list of craft books probably resembles many other authors, but with good reason. These are the ones that provide the trustiest maps: Stephen King's ON WRITING, Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD, Natalie Goldberg's WILD MIND, Jack Bickham's THE 38 MOST COMMON FICTION WRITING MISTAKES (And how to Avoid Them), Donna Levin's GET THAT NOVEL STARTED and James N. Frey's HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL.
I don't agree with everything I read and now that I am also teaching fiction writing I've come up with own guides, but for those who need a kick start, any of one these titles will get you back on the road.
I love John Truby’s THE ANATOMY OF A STORY: 22 STEPS TO BECOMING A MASTER STORYTELLER. It’s great for story structure and developing an outline. During revisions, I like to page through MANUSCIPT MAKEOVER: REVISION TECHNIQUES NO FICTION WRITER CAN AFFFORD TO IGNORE. I also love THE FOREST FOR THE TREES by Betsy Lerner. It’s written from an editor’s point of view (although Lerner is now an agent) and just gives all sorts of insights in the writers’ psyche and the publishing process. Reads like an insider type of book.
Finally, Bredna Ueland's warm-hearted classic IF YOU WANT TO WRITE: A BOOK ABOUT ART, INDEPENDENCE AND SPIRIT. It's about cultivating the right state of mind to write well.
Here's a lovely quote from the book: "The imagination needs moodling,--long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering. "
My first attempt at a novel proved that I was an exemplary typist and little else. POINTS OF VIEW: AN ANTHOLOGY OF SHORT STORIES was a turning point. While it sounds like pretty dry stuff, it contains some of the best “how to” examples I’ve read. As mentioned, in my opinion, Anne Lamott is the uber-resource for hands-on advice, hanging onto your sense of humor, and learning from the best.
If I’m making a favorites list, chances are BIRD BY BIRD is on it. I also must note the spellbinding and riveting CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE. Maybe that’s my newspaper background talking, but it answers many a pesky question. Books, in general, are often more tool than enjoyment; I’m always fascinated to learn how somebody else crafted their novel. There’s nothing like studying a great novelist.
Don't sneer. My favorite writing craft book is STORY by Robert McKee. Forget what you've heard about his cookie cutter approach to outlining. This book is the anatomy & physiology of story craft, a one-stop answer for everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask. I outlined the major points in a notebook I keep by my desk and rereading those notes gives me an instant creative high.
My favorite books are WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass, PLOT and STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell, and ON WRITING by Stephen King. I go back to those again and again!
Sarah Pekkanen’s second novel, SKIPPING A BEAT, has been chosen as a Doubleday Book Club alternate for this winter and just received a starred review from Library Journal.
Check back tomorrow for another edition of Guest Author Sunday and a chance to win a book.