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Wednesday, November 28, 2007


What writing books can we recommend?

Here's an idea: everyone who's been helped by a writing book, recommend it.

Personally, my favourite, in a saved-my-life, incredibly-grateful way, is Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way.

RMS recommended The War of Art by Steven Pressfield recently, which I haven't read but which looks good from its Amazon review.

I've never encountered a how-to-get-published book that actually helped me write; publication advice is fine when you've actually got the book written, but writing it is a totally different headspace, and confusing the two freezes up your imagination faster than anything in the world short of a kick in the head. We've had an interesting discussion on an earlier thread, in which BuffySquirrel pointed out that there's a rough division between organic and planning writers and commented 'Unfortunately, most writing advice is for the planners and outliners, simply because they're a lot easier to advise.' Which is a sad truth. The other thing, I find, is that often the planners don't need quite as much advice - or at least, not about planning, because they already know how to do that.

So does anyone have any books to advise that aren't all formulaic? Let's share.

I have a whole shelf. I love them. Here are my absolute favorites!

1. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. He shows you how breakout novels work and why they work. Not for beginners, but for those who have finished one or more manuscripts, it can take your writing to a new level very quickly.

2. Word Work by Bruce Holland Rogers. In a series of short essays, Rogers does not tell you "how to write." Rather, he tells you how to arrange your life so that it has writing in it. He discusses things like family life, friends, day jobs, and self-image and how they relate to a writer and how a writer relates to them.

3. Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. Some of the examples are outdated, since the book is from the 70's. However, his great advice never goes out of style! This is a great book for beginners and experienced writers alike.

4. Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. This is actually a screenwriting book, but it taught me tons about writing novels. Story is story, right? Movies are different from novels in many ways, but they are also shorter than novels, and therefore it is easier to grasp the structure. Once you have the structure down, you can apply to novels at will. Also, Snyder's analysis of story catagories is amazing. I thought my brain would explode! He throws out the conventions of "genre" and shows how stories really ought to be catagorized.

I also have to second Kit's praise for The Artist's Way. I did the program in 2004 and I'm a better person for it in countless ways. (And I love, love, love morning pages! I still do them every day.)
I agree with bran fan about the Donald Maass book.

No book can teach writing; we're all on our own. But some books have inspired me. John Gardner's books On Becoming a Novelist and The Art of Fiction, while dated, discuss basic skills, truth, morals, and rhythm.

A sleeper is Pinckert's Practical Grammar, by Robert C. Pinckert. It's better than it sounds. Though he discusses grammar and punctuation in a concise and entertaining way, he also has chapters on concentration, tone, and persuasion. I've gone back to it many times.

My favorite nuts-and-bolts book is Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King. Most of the examples are from published books, and the reader gets to edit folks like F. Scott Fitzgerald and P. D. James. It doesn't talk down to the reader, and gives useful tricks, cliches, and pitfalls.
I like the Artists Way because it doesn't try to teach you how to write; it's more about how to manage the emotions that go with being blocked and how to live a happy life while making space for art...
The Artist's Way was helpful to me, too. But being blocked was never my problem; I'm lazy. Writing is hard work, even though I live for it and can't live without it. Anything done well is hard work, though. It's not an "artist's" thing.

It's a matter of balance--of homeostasis--between confidence and humility, between the time and effort of writing and a rich, full life, between the joy of creation and the despair of never being good enough. And trusting the process, and my own mind. Something else that can't be taught, only learned.
Are there any books about how to write biography or history books? I'd appreciate some advice on how to get started in this area. Can anyone help?
I loved Stephen King's "On Writing: A Memoir About the Craft." It's a personal history about becoming a writer, the path he took. His simple, perfect advice: "Read a lot, write a lot."
Hm, I don't know any history/biography advice books, I'm afraid. Anyone else got any ideas?
I second the motion for The War of Art; I love that book so much.

Another book I adore is If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland. It was written back in the 1930s, and it's still one of my favorite books to read when I need inspiration.
I second Stephen King's On Writing. I read it at my father's recommendation, and then I gave it to my boyfriend for Christmas one year and it helped him a lot with his writing. At the same time, it's a fascinating insight into King himself. It really sets him apart from all the hacks who write in his genre.
I'm so honoured to have my book suggestion mentioned! I really recommended The War of Art on so many levels. I think it has lessons for many areas of life, not just writing.

I third King's On Writing, it gives a really good grasp of the basics.

Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones is another terrific book, one that introduced me to the idea of writing as practice. Not everything always has to be perfect! What a concept! Writers have to practice just like everyone else. What a relief that was to learn!

I also enjoyed Julie Cameron's The Right to Write and Patricia Highsmith's Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, although it's been a while since I've read it.
All the below books have helped me understand how writing works better, often because they are not quite directly about writing or they are about a type of writing I don't do. Somehow all this helps me to understand how it all works.

How To Write A Damn Good Novel II by James Frey

All essays about writing by Walter Mosley (and possibly his new book, I can't say for definite though cos I haven't read it.)

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

Writing for Comics: 1 by Alan Moore

Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Arguments For Theatre by Howard Barker

The Rivan Codex by David Eddings

Writing Crime Fiction by H.R.F. Keating
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