Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Writing Books on My Shelf Part 1

Don't forget - today's the last day to get your 100-word writing contest entry turned in!

I've been asked a multiple times about recommendations for books about the craft of writing. I'm not sure I've ever made a list of the ones I keep on my shelf, the ones I continue to find valuable. Major oversight on my part! Here is a picture of the writing books on my shelf:



Pictured left to right: Deep and Wide by Susan May Warren, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, Writing the Breakout Novel, The Career Novelist, and The Fire in Fiction all by Donald Maass, On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Plot & Structure, Revision & Self-Editing, and The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell, The Story Template by Amy Deardon, and Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

That's obviously way too many to talk about in one post, so today I'll just cover four of them:


Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is the first writing book I ever owned. It was required reading in my AP English class, and even though I was the only one in the class longing to be a novelist, everyone seemed to enjoy it. Probably because it's funny.

I reread portions of this book every year, and even now as I'm glancing over the chapters list (False starts, The Moral Point of View, Index Cards, Finding Your Voice) I'm itching to pause blogging and read Bird by Bird instead.

Now ... there's some language. Quite a bit, really. Even still, I cannot recommend it highly enough.


On Writing by Stephen King is the second writing book I acquired. My parents gave it to me for Christmas my senior year of high school. The first part of it is Stephen King's journey to publication, which is fascinating. The second part is advice on writing well. On the editing process, description, language, grammar, everything. And it's all in that wonderfully funny voice of his.

Again, there's a decent amount of language in this book. Again, I can't recommend it highly enough. This is another one that I come back to time and time again.

Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass were the first two writing books I bought for myself. They have remained some of my favorites. Donald Maass is a legendary literary agent, and after 20ish years of watching the publishing industry, he studied "breakout" novels. Those novels that for no apparent reason took off in the market. He says in the introduction that committing to writing a breakout novel is to "say 'no' to merely being good enough to be published."

And the workbook is the advice given in Writing the Breakout Novel but applied to your novel. It's full of hands-on exercises to enrich your story. It gives you space inside the book to write your answers, but I always do the writing on a separate sheet of paper. I will, however, make notes beside the exercises, like which manuscript I used them on.

I think both the regular book and the workbook have tremendous value. I remember sitting on my porch in Florida (where I had a lovely view of our apartment complex parking lot) and highlighting the heck out of Writing the Breakout Novel feeling like maybe, someday, I really could do this.


15 comments:

  1. I've heard lots of good things about "Bird by Bird" and it's waiting for me at the library even now!

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  2. I got Bird by Bird from the library, and didn't finish it. There was so much language, and actually some innapropriate content as well. I was disappointed, and wouldn't recommend it. To me, it's not worth wading through all the junk to try to find the good nuggets.

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    1. Carrie, I definitely understand feeling that way. I wish the language wasn't in there because the writing advice is so wonderful. Thank you for voicing your opinion!

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  3. After reading your review I bought 'Writing the Breakthrough Novel' and 'Writing the Breakthrough Novel Workbook.' I'm really excited to read them!

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    1. Let me know how you like them! The regular book is great when you're studying concepts, but the workbook is awesome for when you have an idea in mind or a manuscript in hand. I have used them both a lot!

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  4. Hey, I have almost all of those! I don't have The Career Novelist, Fire in Fiction, and I can't see that blue one. Good books!

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  5. I have "Make a Scene" by Jordan A. Rosenfield and "Story Engineering" by Larry Brooks. I got them recently when I went to Barnes and Noble (I'm half done with "Make a Scene" but haven't started the other one yet.) I picked out these two mostly because they didn't have "On Writing" and "Story Pillars" in stock--those are the two I've really wanted to read.

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  6. I see some of my favorites here! Like The Elements of Style. Classic. And The Art of War for Writers. I was sitting in bed one night when I read the line about writing being really hard work, but just try telling other people that. I laughed so hard my mom called up the stairs wanting to know if I was okay. One of those moments.

    I made up a list similar to this recently. http://www.rachellerea.com/2011/11/writing-books-im-reading.html

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  7. Great post! Funny story.... I asked my mom to get me a teen writing book for my birthday (which is today), and then saw this post and was like drat, I wish I saw this earlier. Imagine my surprise when I open up a copy of Bird by Bird! Funny right? I can't wait to get started on it.

    Caroline

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  8. I do need a copy of Bird by Bird if it is that amazing! And the other ones. Oh how do love to read.
    I should probably get On Writing back to the library. I'm sure that I've had it at least a month; I hope I'm not destroying the patience of some reader!

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  9. Writing the Breakout Novel is definitely one of my favourites. I also recommend Story by Robert McKee. Like, seriously, I recommend that book unbelievably highly. It's even better than Writing the Breakout Novel. :)

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    1. I've got some Amazon gift cards ... might just have to order me a copy. Thanks for the recommendation, Nick!

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  10. I'm currently reading 'Writing the Breakout Novel' and I think it should be noted that many of the examples in this book are inapporpriate and somewhat gory. Perhaps you should mention this on your posts before reccommending it, since it would be nice for other teens to realize this before reading it. Thanks.

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    1. I honestly don't remember anything horribly inappropriate or gory ... though it's been 5 years since I read it cover-to-cover, so I'll take your word for it.

      But, yes, it should be noted that all the craft books on the list are written by adults who had an adult audience in mind. That's an important thing to remember.

      Tomorrow I'll be talking about the books Plot and Structure, Revision and Self-Editing, and The Art of War for Writers, all of which are written by James Scott Bell. They're books for the general market, but Mr. Bell is a Christian. Other than some minor language that might be in some of the examples he uses from other novels, they're clean.

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Disagreement is welcome. Rudeness is not. Please be considerate of each other!