Monday, November 17, 2014

Favorite Books on the Writing Craft

When I started writing a little over three years ago, I foolishly thought I knew all there was to know about writing a novel—after all I’d been reading novels all my life. Boy oh boy did I have a rude awakening! When I heard about a writing workshop that was going to be held in town, a dear friend and I decided to go, and I think both of us were fighting back tears just an hour into the two day class. We had no idea what the instructors were talking about! Hook? Show, do not Tell? Plot points and twists? Three act arcs? We were in WAY over our heads. But by the end of the second day, we had some tools in our writer toolbox, knew we had a LOT still to learn, and when we came out of our stupor a few days later we were energized to continue learning our craft.

Now, three years down the road I’ve attended numerous workshops and classes, read as many books on the craft as I could, and feel I have a modest handle on things. Along the way I’ve found some excellent books on the writing craft; some of the best are listed below.

  • Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver: Hands down the best book on writing for the beginning writer.  Also an excellent book for any writer at any stage in their career. I was lucky enough to stumble upon this book for my first craft book, and just now as I was gathering books from around my house, I realized it’s time for a re-read. Cleaver breaks
    the writing process down into its most essential parts. It’s an easy read; he uses plenty of examples; exercises are included for each ‘lesson’ throughout the book. He covers every aspect of the writing process from story and plot, to rewriting, to unblocking, to the submission process.

  • The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass, followed by his other two books, Writing the Breakout Novel, and Writing 21st Century Fiction. Donald Maass---ahhhh. A top literary agent and craft teacher extraordinaire, Maass has written some of the best books on the writing craft you will find. HOWEVER, you should have some of the basics in place, maybe by reading Immediate Fiction first. Like Cleaver, his books are filled with examples of everything he teaches, but he delves more deeply into the craft. Start with The Fire in Fiction!! I made the mistake of starting with the 21st Century book, and it was over my head. I needed his basics first, which are in the Fire book. I was very, very fortunate to get to attend a workshop given by Mr. Maass, and he is amazing. A multi-published writer acquaintance of mine is repped by Maass, and she says she reads The Fire in Fiction every time she’s about to begin writing a new book. It’s THAT good. I read Writing the Breakout Novel while reading a breakout novel and found the experience very educational. And recently I’ve started reading a snippet of Fire in Fiction each time I sit down to write, just to keep it fresh in my mind.

  • On Writing by Stephen King: It’s Stephen King, do I need to say more? First half memoir—wow, fascinating!—second half craft. Simply put, every writer should read this book! I’m going to cheat here and send you to my alter ego’s blog where I wrote an open letter to Mr. King after reading this book, and followed it by some of the lessons I learned from his book. My blog post here, if you want more info on this classic, must-read book.

  • Writing Irresistible Kidlit  by Mary Kole: Kole is a well known YA and MG literary agent (she was with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency for six years) who shares her writing wisdom in her book, as well as on her popular blog. Though many of the excellent lessons in this book can be applied to any form of writing, she targets her lessons to the YA and Middle Grade writers. Readable and accessible to any novice writer, I loved reading this book, and learned so much about the unique requirements of kidlit. Looking over this book again as I write this, I think this is another book that’s ready for a revisit.

  • Second Sight, An Editor’s Talks on Writing Revising & Publishing Books For Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein: Klein is the Executive Editor for Arthur A. Levine which is an imprint of Scholastic. She was the continuity editor for the last two Harry Potter books, and is the current editor for some of the best writers currently working in YA and MG literature. She frequently speaks on writing for children, teaches workshops, etc. and this book is a compilation of many of her talks. She’s pretty damned brilliant, and I think having the opportunity to get a glimpse into her insight just for the cost of a book is one not to be missed. I got to hear her speak on a panel not too long ago—and let me repeat: she’s pretty damned brilliant!

  • Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin: Like the Stephen King book, this one has become something of a classic. Storytelling craft is combined with some grammar lessons ala Strunk and White, and all mixed in with an airy and comfortable narrative. It’s like getting a chance to sit down with LeGuin and hear her talk about writing and all it means.

  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: I’m currently reading this, after it was highly recommended at a recent conference I attended. The subtitle tells what this book is about: “Some Instructions on Writing and Life”. You aren’t going to learn so much how to write the next best seller, but you will hear about the life of a writer, the highs, the lows, the joys, and the tribulations, and everything in between. When I pick up this book I feel like I should first have a cup of tea sitting next to me, as I’m about to have a chat with a remarkable writer. This book is for your writer’s soul.

I hope you’ll find something from this list that will help you with your writing! Whether you are just starting out, or simply need a dose of encouragement to keep going, there’s a book here for you! (And NaNoWriMo writers—you might want to come back here the first week in December and find an excellent craft book to help you whip that 50,000 word MS into a masterpiece.) Happy Writing!

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