Writers are foremost readers. We consume words with voracious appetites. Books line our walls, collect in corners in ramshackle towers, and cover the tops of our coffee tables.
We just can’t get enough!
Yet, ask any of us where to find our favorites, and there will be a sacred location with erect spines marching across a shelf. Grabbing any one of the collection is an automatic response, little thought to its specific space given.
That’s a clue we’ve reached for it on numerous occasions, and the reason it occupies a place of honor.
So when another writing friend asked me which books on writing were my personal favorites, I didn’t have far to go to answer. And while I was selecting my list for her, I thought I would share it with you as well.
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird has been a favorite of many writers since its publication. It was the first one in my collection of books on writing. Each reader will find a unique pearl of wisdom from it. For me, it was learning not to rush through my stories.
Slow down, give each scene its due diligence, take a bit of the pressure off yourself.
This is a great starter book and describes a lot of the author’s own struggles with becoming an author. If you haven’t started writing your main project yet–you know the one pecking at the backs of your eyeballs–start with this book.
I don’t write horror, although Southern Gothic and Suspense are both categories I would say my work falls into. But you don’t have to be a horror writer to glean a boat load of wisdom from Stephen King’s On Writing.
In fact, this is my favorite book of all time on the craft of writing.
Yep, you read it right. Stephen King knows what we are looking for and gives it to us in this book of advice to writers. He says right up front that he assumes we have already read the basic books on writing and that he will not bore us with more sage wisdom on avoiding grammatical mistakes.
This book is about what you can do to improve your work. And the one piece of advice I have religiously followed is from this book. It is crucial–at least for me.
Once completed, put that manuscript away for thirty days at least. Don’t look at it, don’t reread it, don’t even think about it. Why?
As the writer, you know everything about your characters. You have been living inside of their heads. You know what they eat, when they sleep, what their bad habits are. This knowledge needs time to evaporate before you can realistically judge how well you are communicating it to your readers.
And there are endless other tidbits of wisdom within the pages of this book. It’s also easy to read and understand, and will give you a bit of insight into Stephen King’s journey into the macabre. It’s fascinating!
Noah Lukeman gives some vital instruction in The First Five Pages.
This is advice geared to help writers start out with a bang, grab the attention of the reader right from the start. We tend to want the reader to know all of the backstory so they can then appreciate the struggles the main character(s) is/are facing.
But he also knows if we fail to engage the reader within the first few pages, they won’t stick around for the really good stuff. This applies to agents and publishers as well. You want to snatch their interest within those initial few minutes, closer to two pages than five. Some say it is paramount to capture the reader’s attention within the first two paragraphs.
Even the first line can make you or break you. Write everything if you must, then skip about sixty pages and make that your opening hook. Read Lukeman for more pointers.
Janet Hulstrand, the instructor who made the most difference in my writing life, introduced me to Julia Cameron’s work. This book, The Right to Write, was assigned as a precursor to studying with Hulstrand at The Essoyes School.
Boy, did it open my eyes!
For those who know me, even those who have known me for most of my life, my writing compulsion was a secret I hid from them. I even hid it from my husband. It wasn’t that I was writing hideously dark stories whose discovery might have made me seem like a deranged lunatic. It was mostly that I felt as if I didn’t have the right to think of myself as a writer.
Who was I? What gave me the right to assume my thoughts and imagination would resonate with others? Why did everything in my life trigger a story, even if as far from reality as humanly possible?
The Right to Write answers a lot of these questions and Cameron gives the reader several assignments which are crucial to undertake. It was through a few of her challenges that I made significant discoveries. And I kept them in a journal which has been priceless to look back upon.
Being impressed with Cameron’s The Right to Write, naturally led to an exploration of another of her works, The Vein of Gold. In it, she helps us explore our inner archeological dig sites in order to strike that invaluable golden vein of inspiration.
We each have faced our own individual struggles, and our perception of them is based on our past experiences. What do you have to write about that is uniquely your own story to tell? Read this if you want help in unearthing your own golden nuggets.
Like Julia Cameron, Noah Lukeman occupies more than one space on my shelf. In addition to The First Five Pages, his The Plot Thickens, helps writers focus on the storyline.
Another writer friend with enough degrees in poetry and creative writing to intimidate the average person, confided to me the serious lack of instruction offered on plotting. Without a good plot, there will be little to hold a story together.
If you feel like your education let you down a bit in this area, start with Lukeman’s advice on plotting. Then follow it up with my all-time favorite plotting instructional written by Martha Alderson.
Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer has been a valuable source of plotting guidelines for me. One pre-reviewer of the novel my publisher is releasing next, commented on my success at tying up all of the ends, answering every question, polishing the book into something satisfying for the reader.
That was amazing for me to hear. And likely due to some of the advice offered by Alderson in The Plot Whisperer. It is realistic, how-to information, presented in an understandable fashion.
There you have it! My all-time favorite books on the craft of writing can now be yours as well.
How about you? Do you have a favorite book or even website that offers valuable information to you about building new worlds through words?
Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food. She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.