If you’re starting out, it’s impossible to learn everything by yourself. Luckily there’s thousands of books available to help out a humble new writer taking their first steps.
I’ve read a lot over the past couple years; below is a subset of what I think are the best. Each of them has a slightly different lesson to teach. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a great list to start with if you’re brand new, like me.
These are in no specific order
On Writing by Stephen King
Why not start with the best? Every new writer has read this, so you may as well get it over with.
Part autobiography, part writing school, King brings out his passion and love for writing with practical, usable feedback on how to get started.
The techniques covered are oriented towards new writers, and include basic and beginner topics (the same ones I’ve tackled in this blog), like don’t use adverbs, show don’t tell and avoid excessive dialogue tags.
If you’re brand new and taking your first steps on your writing journey, this is the book I’d recommend to read first.
I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.
How not to write a novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
This book is funny and clever and a new approach on the “how to do this” type of style you find more ordinarily in the genre.
It’s a very tongue in cheek look at all the ways a beginner can go wrong, not in how they tell the story (i.e. writing mechanics) but what story they tell.
Filled with great chapters about how badly write characters or how to badly write plots, it’s a funny alternative to the normal writing books
This particular blunder is known as deus ex machina, which is French for “are you fucking kidding me?”
Spellbinding Sentences by Barbara Baig
Okay, so this book, despite the title, is not particularly spellbinding. In fact, it’s kind of dry. BUT, it’s a wonderful guide towards the more technical aspects of writing. How sentences are made, how to use adjectives, and so on.
It’s more a textbook than anything else, but it’s filled with practical examples and lots of “how to” guides.
Skilled writers have a profound appreciation for the ability of the human mind to associate one word with another. They know that, given the slightest opportunity, the readers minds will slip away from what the words on the page are communicating into their own private associations.
The Anti-Christ Handbook by Fred Clark
This technically is not a book on how to write well, but by so thoroughly demolishing another book, it ends up being incredibly instructive.
It’s a page by page deconstruction of “Left Behind” the fairly horrible rapture books Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.
Not only is it hilarious, there’s so many practical instruction for what not to do when writing a book. Instruction that LaHaye and Jenkins fail to follow on almost every page.
As it turns out, the suspenseful account of the landing is neither suspenseful nor an account
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
This is a tough one to get through. Gardner is pretentious, overwrought, and can’t seem to use two words when nine will suffice. He’s openly hostile to anyone who doesn’t have formal writing education and for a book that’s supposed to be about how to write well, it’s poorly written.
If you can get through it, there is a ton of good stuff in here. Cut through all the literary pretension and you’ll find nuggets of gold.
The techniques he covers in this book are really advanced and I don’t know if I would have been able to make sense of them if this was just starting out. If you’re willing to invest the time, there’s a lot of good information in this one.
Sanity in a writer is merely this: However stupid he may be in his private life, he never cheat in writing. He never forgets that his audience is, at least ideally, as noble, generous, and tolerant as he is himself (or more so), and never forgets that he is writing about people.
What books on writing have you read? Let me know in the comments!