I realized belatedly that maybe I should have picked a snappier, less self-centered title, like 10 Books On Writing You Must Read in Order to Not Be a Total Asshole, but, whatever, too late now.)
A friend recently asked for my favorite books on the craft of writing. I had originally intended to go through these volumes in detail, one at a time, but nothing else about this blog has gone how I intended, so here’s my short list. I’ll probably have more to say on each of them later. I’ve already talked about Zen in the Art of Writing in detail, so I won’t say more about it here (other than “buy and read it”).
In no particular order, then:
Strunk & White (William Strunk & E.B. White) and Spunk & Bite (Arthur Plotnik)
The former will teach you the most venerable rules of grammar. The latter will teach you how, why, and when you should subvert them. Learn the former before pursuing the latter. I beg you.
On Writing (Stephen King)
Homespun advice from one of the most commercially successful authors of all time, in the easy vernacular that made him so readable. You can’t really go wrong.
Writing Down the Bones (Natalie Goldberg)
I keep this book around when I want to feel inspired. Not a lot of technical advice, but cultivates passion and enthusiasm.
Characters and Viewpoint (Orson Scott Card)
I don’t generally enjoy Card’s fiction, and to say I disagree with his politics would be a dire understatement — but this book is really good. If you can swallow giving the guy your money, pick up this volume. It’s still the best book on characters I’ve read.
Techniques of the Selling Writer (Dwight V. Swain)
Written in 1965 and still relevant, this book covers everything from structure and conflict to planning and characterization. It’s jam-packed with great advice.
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) (Jack. M. Bickham)
A thin, concise, easy-to-read list of classic fiction gaffes. If you’re a beginning writer, you’ll probably find yourself guilty of more than one. Great bathroom reading.
The Art of War for Writers (James Scott Bell)
Wry, clever writing advice delivered in a fun new way: through the context of Sun Tzu. This thing is a treasure trove.
How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead (Ariel Gore)
It’s a bit of a cliche to describe a book on writing as being written “from the trenches,” but Ariel Gore’s book reads like that. It’s full of hard-nosed advice and scruffy charm. Especially recommended for people thinking about getting into self-publishing.
6 Replies to “My 10 Favorite Books on Writing”
I just finished reading Writing Down the Bones this week. I’d had it recommended to be before, and couldn’t get into it, but I was in the right mindset this time! I agree with your assessment of it. I also really dig Stephen King’s book, but that’s more for his voice and for the biographical info than for the technical aspects of his writing advice.
To me, Writing Down the Bones and On Writing both feel like sitting down at a coffee shop with another writer and having a conversation. King is kind of a gruff Maine everyman, and Goldberg is like an Arizona hippie. I appreciate the enthusiasm of both, but you’re right in that they’re not terribly technical. Although I like how King approaches his technical advice, especially “who farted?” when he starts talking about passive voice.
Nice suggestions! 😀
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Absolutely perfect note under Strunk & White! Lately, I’ve been longing to read something new; that didn’t include; a missplaced; semi-colon.
By the way, please don’t check my writing for semi-colon use. My Grade 12 English teacher, Mrs. Theodorou, would be horrified how at the way a semi-colon saves me in 5 sentence fiction entries.
Thanks for the comment, Jo-Anne! I nearly have to stab myself in the hand sometimes to keep from semicolon overuse.
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