What are the Top 10 books on how to write?
Here's my list of the best books on writing, see what you think:
1. ON WRITING WELL: AN INFORMAL GUIDE TO WRITING NONFICTION by WILLIAM KNOWLTON ZINSSER
"On Writing Well" is one of the key reference books for any serious or would-be-serious writer. William Zinsser is all about paring down language to its simplest elements. He covers all kinds of writing including humor, sports, business and technical writing, travel, memoir and interviews. He provides clear analysis of poor writing and then gives the simplest and most perfect of solutions. Start your 'how to write book' collection with this classic gem.
2. ON WRITING by STEPHEN KING
"On Writing Well" by Zinsser runs to 300 pages (all good though!). Stephen King's modern classic "On Writing" is short yet very, very sweet. This is not a how-to manual, it's a mixture of memoirs including his near fatal car accident, his drug and alchohol problems and little tidbits about life with his brother and wife. There are amusing, pithy mutterings on writing, writing courses (he has mixed feelings towards them) and the perceived perfect writing environment with routine interruptions and distractions. Every writer thinks "God, if only I were in the right writing environment, with the right understanding people, I just know I could be penning my masterpiece". How I relate to that! Normally it takes Stephen King three months to come up with the first draft of a novel, ironically he found 'On Writing' much more difficult to pen. Even if you think you're not learning much about writing, this is a great read, the kind of read that keeps you page turning all evening until you're done....and then maybe...you realise that you have learnt something after all.
3. BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS OF WRITING AND LIFE by ANNE LAMOTT
Who said that everyone has at least great book inside of them? Anne Lamott believes it and is trying to get it out of you. The title comes from her father who once told her 10 year old brother who was struggling over a book report about birds: 'just take it bird by bird'. It's filled with real-world advice and lots of humor, from the realities of suffering from writer's jealous to the neuroticism, laziness and overwhelm you might feel from time to time. If you have ever thought "I want to write a book", but just didn't know how to go about it, start with "Bird By Bird".
4. WRITING DOWN THE BONES: FREEING THE WRITER WITHIN by NATALIE GOLDBERG
What the rules of good writing? They are the same as the rules for good sex: keep your hand moving, lose control and don't think. There you have it, that's all you need....now go write that masterpiece! This books makes a great complement to "The Well Fed Writer" (see below) in that it's all about free-spirited writing and letting your imagination lead. She's very Zen (in almost an Oprah-like way) in that she treats writing as a form of meditation which may be off-puttingly self-help to some, but it's most inspiring and uplifting for me. But one of her biggest messages is to just keep your hand moving...keep writing. She advises, for example, that you fill one notebook every month with your musings and to write without fear. A great choice if you are insecure about your writing and want to be free of your own mental shackles.
5. WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass
Donald Maass spent 30 years as a literary agent at The Donald Maass agency so he knows a thing or too about creating that bestselling novel. The purpose of his book is the give you all the proper tools to take you from producing a "mildly engaging midlist novel [to a ] highly memorable breakout". His chapter headings demonstrate his desire to give you specific tools. They include: 'premise', 'stakes', 'time and place', 'characters', 'contemporary plot techniques', 'multiple viewpoints, subplots, pace, voice, endings' and 'breaking out'. I like the fact that there is a 'breakout checklist' at the end of each chapter so you get a feel for what you might be doing wrong or excluding and how to fix it.
6. THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by WILLIAM STRUNK AND E.B. WHITE
One of those timeless classics. Now in its 50th year of print. Strunk and White lay out the basic rules of English grammar, the elementary principles of composition, commonly misused words and, a list of very useful reminders (e.g. 'do not overwrite' and 'place yourself in the background'). Even now, with English grammar answers at the click of a mouse, I find myself reaching over to my bookshelf to grab this book when I need to remember where the commas go. Great present for a student.
7. IF YOU WANT TO WRITE: A BOOK ABOUT ART, INDEPENDENCE AND SPIRIT by BRENDA UELAND
If you're feeling completely disheartened about your writing, you are not alone. This book makes you feel that you can be a great writer and gives you belief that you have a unique story to tell. She writes how other people in your life have most likely killed your creative spirit from teachers, old brothers, parents and critics. Take it from Brenda "imagination is the divine body in every man". Give this book to the struggling artists in your life.
8. IMMEDIATE FICTION: A COMPLETE WRITING COURSE by JERRY CLEAVER
The cover and title of this book makes it sound like a flimflam self-help tome but Jerry Cleaver's "Immediate Fiction" will give your writing a big jump-start. Cleaver offers practical, simple but brilliant suggestions on writing. He discusses plot, characterization but I actually like the 'getting started' writing exercises the best. I also like his advice on time management since time management and productivity are particular interests of mine. Become an expert on creative writing with practical, actionable steps. Free yourself from writer's block with this book.
9. BECOMING A WRITER by DOROTHEA BRANDE
"Immediate Fiction" and "Becoming A Writer" are often spoken of in the same breath (or in the 'frequently bought together' section of Amazon!) Written in 1934, Brande's book is dedicated to helping you to 'get over yourself' and start writing, no matter what. The book doesn't cover writing techniques, it's about you and tapping into unlimited treasures of your creative mind. Once you read it, you just KNOW you are going to become a writer and write that bestseller! Do you need any further recommendation than that?
10. THE WELL-FED WRITER: FINANCIAL SELF-SUFFICIENCY AS A COMMERCIAL WRITER IN SIX MONTHS OR LESS by PETER BOWERMAN
If you want to make a real living by freelance writing, start by reading "The Well Fed Writer" and following each practical step. The author has clearly lived and breathed and taught his freelance writing techniques and job hunting methods. My favorite section is on cold calling because I absolutely loathe having to do that and to be given specific tips makes me feel less embarrassed. It offers realistic projections on income and potential challenges and yet manages to be inspiring at the same time. The updated version of the book has even more case studies from writers so you are sure to find a story with which you can relate. Why isn't it at position 1? Well, because it's more about the business of becoming a freelance writer than writing itself. The only clunky element is the overly long title!
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