I knew I owned a lot of books about writing—but I never realized I have quite so many until I counted them tonight. Over 50.
I’m including among these some standard books every writer should have on hand. A couple dictionaries, the Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (Yes, believe it or not, grammar nannies, I do own a book or two on grammar) a battered version of Roget’s Thesaurus, a handful of books on police procedures, building science fiction worlds and even on creating dark horror characters. But beyond that I have a lot of other books on the craft of writing, and I’ve read most of them, some from cover-to-cover, others just certain chapters that pertained to writing questions on hand at the time I picked them up. Most of them have not been all that helpful, some of them are downright bad, but there are a few of them I’ve enjoyed and have learned a lot from. These are the books I’m listing here.
Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg
What I like about it: The mix of Zen and writing practice. This book is pure inspiration. Fun to read and full of encouragement.
Nuggets of wisdom: When sitting down to write commit yourself to that task. Keep your hand moving, don’t cross out, don’t worry about spelling, punctuation and grammar, lose control, don’t think, go for the jugular (don’t pull away from things that come up in your writing). Good stuff that makes me want to put a pen to paper.
How to Write a Movie in 21 Days by Viki King
I love movies and I’m a big fan of trying to write on the page in ways that are exciting and potentially filmable. Viki King’s book does a great job of breaking down how a screen play works, section by section, with writing prompts to help you think about your writing project. It may be about writing a movie, but I used certain parts of her book to help me brainstorm my novel BLACKHEART (and I think with good results).
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Another good book about screenplay writing with hints and tips about understanding story in movies. The author has a “Beat Sheet” section in his book that takes you through 15 key scenes (beats) that all good movies have, and then illustrates all these points with examples from contemporary movies.
Stephen King’s On Writing
I’ve read many, many books by Stephen King and it is interesting to me that several writers I know who had previously never read any Stephen King read this one book—and loved it. It’s a fun read (especially if you’re a King fan to begin with) containing many personal aspects of the author’s life as a writer and lots of good advice. There is a nice example towards the back of the book showing part of an edited manuscript. My favorite part of the book has little to do with writing: Stephen King’s retelling of the auto accident where he was run down by the equivalent of one of his characters.
STAR WARS the magic of myth by Mary Henderson
A very “Joseph Campbell-esque” look at the hero’s journey in the Star Wars storyline.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Bird by bird refers to dealing with things in small chunks, which for a novelist is the only way to go. My favorite concept of her writing about writing is that of the “shitty first draft.” Take small steps, get it down, fix it up later.
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
There are three slips of paper I have tacked above writing space containing these words: Work, Relax, Don’t Think. Bits of wisdom from Ray Bradbury’s book, that on an ideal writing day I try to follow. The “don’t think” part of the equation to me is the most interesting part of being a writer. I sit down at my writing desk some days and when I get into that groove and work and relax and let the characters go where they may things happen in the story I never would have planned and plotted out. Lots of fun stories and quotes in this book from Bradbury.
Do you have a favorite book on the craft of writing? I’d love to hear about it.