Reading Books ‘On Writing’

How many of you read books on writing? I do. All the time. I know there’s a lot of writers out there who don’t, and honestly, I don’t get it. If you want to become better at something, you study it, right? So why is writing any different?

I hit a huge snag this weekend with the revisions to my novel. As I explained it to the cashier at Barnes & Noble yesterday, “‘Well, last night I realized that my plot . . . well . . . um . . . my plot sort of needs to exist.”  And it’s true! I have huge issues with the plot. So that’s why I made the 1 hour, 15 minute trip to my nearest favorite bookstore. To find a book specific to my genre that would give me a kick in the head and make me look at things a little differently, so I can hopefully get it sorted. (Starbucks had nothing to do with it. I swear.)

Which made me think about all the books about writing I’ve read over the years, and which are my favorites. (I own at least two dozen; I know I own 2 copies of at least 3 different books.) I thought I’d share with you some of my favorites today.

9781439156810_p0_v1_s260x4201.) On Writing, Stephen King — This goes without saying. If you don’t have a copy of this on your bookshelf, well-thumbed, with scribbled notes in the margins and highlights everywhere, then you SHOULD. I don’t care if you don’t read Stephen King. I don’t. But this man is a best-seller for a reason. Everything you need to know as a beginning author, you’ll find here. Everything you need to remember as an experienced author, you’ll find here. But I think the most important thing you will take away is this:  perseverance.

9781599631677_p0_v2_s260x4202.) The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide:  How To Give and Receive Feedback, Self-Edit, and Make Revisions, Becky Levine — LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book. I read it cover to cover when I first got it. Not only does she share with you how to choose the right critique group for you, she teaches you how to give constructive feedback to your fellow writers, and provides (glaring and funny) examples of Really Bad Writing. Not only that, but she gives you pointers on how to critique for different genres. A must-have. Even if you don’t belong to a critique group, this will help you revise and edit your own works.

9780061965616_p0_v1_s260x4203.) Unless It Moves the Human Heart:  The Craft and Art of Writing, Roger Rosenblatt — This isn’t a book about writing per se, but it is a short memoir of Rosenblatt’s experiences with teaching an MFA course on creative writing at Stony Brook University. The exercises he leads his students through – and the insights they glean from each other – make this a must-read. If you teach anything at all, but especially writing or composition, then you will love this.

9780684857435_p0_v1_s260x4204.) The First Five Pages:  A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, Noah Lukeman — This was one of the first books on writing I ever bought, and it’s still one I turn to. I used it extensively when I taught creative writing last year. Although my copy is out-of-date in some things, like querying agents, most of the material is still SO valuable. For instance:  “Agents and editors don’t read manuscripts to enjoy them; they read solely with the goal of getting through the pile, solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript . . .” Lukeman’s goal (and he’s been an editor himself) is to show you the pitfalls, and ensure that your manuscript can’t be dismissed.

9781599631349_p0_v1_s260x4205.) Writing the Paranormal Novel, Stephen Harper — I re-read this about once a year on average. I own two copies. If you write paranormal or urban fantasy, you need this book! Harper has an engaging and funny writing style, the work is up-to-date with recent examples, and he covers everything, from developing characters and setting to avoiding cliches, to making sure your magic systems really work.

9781402293528_p0_v2_s260x4206.) Writing Great Books for Young Adults, Regina Brooks — Brooks is a founder of Serendipity Literary Agency, and this book was THE textbook for the Writing Young Adult Fiction course I took at Oxford University last year. If it’s good enough for Oxford, it’s good enough for you, yes? If you write young adult fiction, you need this book on your shelf. Brooks focuses on how to find the “voice” of a young adult protagonist, how to find characters to fit your story and vice versa, how to pitch to agents, and what you can and cannot do within the genre. This is the newest version, published in October 2014.

Do you have a favorite writing book (or two or three)? If so, share them! Feel free to post them in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Reading Books ‘On Writing’

  1. You forgot On Writing Horror and Self Editing for Fiction Writers! Both are must reads to me. There’s also some really goodgenre specific books for various genres as you know.

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