Over the past year or so I’ve amassed an alarmingly large collection of books about the writing craft, all in the name of improving my skills. I justify this by a) reading the blurbs on these books from established authors who swear by them and b) reminding myself that to improve, you need to learn the craft of writing.
I thought I’d share a few of the books that had the biggest impact on me, whether the impact was in my writing skill, or in the way I thought about the writing life. I hope you find these books as helpful as I have!
Finding Your Writer’s Voice was recommended to me by my first creative writing teacher, Naomi K. Lewis, and I credit this book for helping me get my first story published. Finding Your Writer’s Voice covers everything from using your childhood and life experiences to drive your writing voice, to discussing first- vs. second- vs. third- person narratives and giving practical advice on how to create believable characters. Each chapter includes exercises and lots of tips. I devoured this book, and I’m certain I’ll be reading it again in the near future.
Read this book if: You feel like your characters are falling flat or could be more developed.
This classic writer’s craft tome is classic for a reason: it’s darn good. Writing Down the Bones is one of the only writing-related books I have read more than once. Part workbook and part discussion of the writer-life, Writing Down the Bones is designed to unblock creativity and get you writing. As other reviewers have mentioned, this book relies heavily on Zen philosophy, which worked for me, but could be challenging if that’s not something you’re into.
Read this book if: Your inner editor is taking over and sterilizing your writing.
I purchased The Art of War for Writers after hearing great things about it on Twitter and from other bloggers, and I was not disappointed! This book got me excited about writing. Each of the 77 short chapters are based on quips from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and filled with advice and encouragement for aspiring (and established) writers. In the introduction, James Scott Bell writes that he hoped to, “…fill in some of the ‘cracks’ in what is normally taught in writing books and classes,” and I believe he succeeds in doing so with The Art of War for Writers.
Read this book if: You want to be motivated to write and you want a honest advice on the publishing industry.
Another oft-referenced writer’s craft book, Bird by Bird became one of my favourites because of its gentle encouragement and insight into the life of a great writer, Anne Lamott. I read Bird by Bird early in 2011, when I first started to take my writing seriously, and it helped me gain confidence and be realistic about the writing life. Perhaps the most famous chapter in Bird by Bird is ‘Shitty First Drafts.’ This chapter made me feel SO much better about my writing: it’s okay to write crappy first drafts because even famous writers do! Here’s a great article about the lesson behind Anne Lamott’s ‘Shitty First Drafts’ concept.
Read this book if: You want to build your confidence as a writer.
The Art of Fiction was recommended by Jack Whyte at the When Words Collide conference in Calgary last year. Mr. Whyte’s deep voice and Scottish accent were too much to resist, and I bought the book the same day (side note, you can hear said accent on Jack’s website). Unlike several of my other favourite books on writing, The Art of Fiction is heavy on the ‘instructional’ side, rather than the ‘advice’ side. It’s technical and includes lots of exercises (some that are very challenging!), and I’m sure if I were to master this book, I’d be a much better writer.
Read this if: You want to improve your writing from a technical perspective (as opposed to a creativity perspective).
More Books on Writing:
Here are a few more books on writing that have helped me.
On Writing by Stephen King
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice for Writers by Betsy Lerner
The Right to Write & The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
If you’d like to read more about books on writing, check out these posts for more lists of writing resources:
Some News & A Request For Recommendations:
Before I sign-off, I wanted to mention two new short stories that I’ve been lucky enough to have published this week (best week ever!).
My short story Knit, Purl, Breathe was included on Fiction365.com on Thursday, April 5th. Here’s the synopsis and a link to read if you’re interested:
As Louisa struggles to understand her son’s sexuality, her tenuous marriage is strained to the breaking point. Louisa tries to spice up her relationship with ballroom dancing lessons, but when her radio-obsessed husband refuses, Louisa is left to find her own (unexpected) hobby. What she finds is not that her marriage or her son needs fixing, but that perhaps she’s capable of a lot more than she could have ever imagined. You can read Knit, Purl, Breathe here.
My super-short vignette, The Blemish Collector, was included in the second issue of Vine Leaves Literary Journal. You can read it on page five of the issue here. The story is short by creepy (“It will give you shivers,” the editors kindly wrote in the issue’s introduction).
Vine Leaves is a really neat journal: they are the only lit journal (that I’m aware of) that specifically publishes vignettes. Lots of great stories, poems and artwork in there if you’d like to check it out!
Finally, I’d love to hear what your favourite books on writing are! Does your bookshelf look a lot like mine, or do you have some gems I’ve yet to discover?