People ask me all the time for recommendations of books on or about writing they “should” read. Like, how to do it. But by now you should know my opinion about this: there’s a little bit of voodoo involved. The process of becoming a writer is kinda like making a mole sauce: it’s labor- and time-intensive and requires about twenty-seven different ingredients, some of which seem completely and possibly disastrously unrelated to one another.
So my general response to these sorts of inquiries is: you should be reading, full stop. If you want to write YA, you should be reading YA. If you want to write mysteries, read them. (You should read other things, too, of course.) But folks want instructions (heck, I want instructions); they want a guide, a how-to. (I don’t know what to tell the author who told me he’d devoured Stephen King’s On Writing and then delivered a manuscript chock-full of adverbial dialogue tags, against which King positively rants; you can practically feel his spittle on your cheeks, he feels so strongly about it.)
Thus this list: the group of books I’ve accumulated in a lifetime of reading, writing, and learning about reading and writing. It’s by no means an authoritative list; these just happen to be the books I have on my shelf (or, in a couple cases, in my Kindle).
• Art of Fiction, The / David Lodge (1993)
• Artist’s Way, The: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity / Julia Cameron (1992)
• Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life / Bret Lott (2005)
• Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life / Anne Lamott (1994)
• Deep and Wide: Advanced Fiction Writing Techniques for Making Your Characters Deeper and Your Plot Wider / Susan May Warren (2010)
• Fiction Editor, The Novel, and the Novelist, The: A Book for Writers, Teachers, Publishers, and Anyone Else Devoted to Fiction / Thomas McCormack (1988, 2006)
• Forest for the Trees, The: An Editor’s Advice to Writers / Betsy Lerner (2000)
• Gotham Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Creative Writing School (2003)
• Hooked: Write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go / Les Edgerton (2007)
• Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing / Margaret Atwood (2002)
• On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft / Stephen King (2000)
• Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish / James Scott Bell (2004)
• Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print / Renni Brown and Dave King (2004)
• “Shut Up!” He Explained: A Writer’s Guide to the Uses and Misuses of Dialogue / William Noble (1987)
• Starting From Scratch: A Different Kind of Writer’s Manual / Rita Mae Brown (1988)
• 10 Rules of Writing / Leonard Elmore (2007)
• Weekend Novelist, The / Robert J. Ray (1994)
• Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within / Natalie Goldberg (1986)
• Writing Fiction for Dummies / Randy Ingermanson, Peter Economy (2009)
• Writing Life, The / Annie Dillard (1990)
• Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy: 20 Dynamic Essays by Today’s Top Professionals (1997)
This doesn’t includes, of course, the myriad books about words, grammar, and style, starting with Strunk and White, Chicago Manual of Style, Roget’s, and going on (and on and on) from there.
Here’s one that’s been highly recommended to me, although I haven’t read it myself:
• Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them / Francine Prose (2007)
And there you have it. But not quite. Here’s one last book, recommended by someone I don’t know, who charmed me with this review. If you end up reading this book, I’d like to know what you think. And Jane Friedman, a popular speaker, former publisher of Writer’s Digest (still a contributing editor), and, until recently, a writing professor at University of Cincinnati, has blogged a lot of good advice for writers. She’s created an archive of that material here.
What books have you found most helpful? Please post a comment and let the rest of us know!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”