I was just having my morning cuppa, today, browsing through Facebook, as you do, and came across Book Riot‘s article on the Best Books About Writing. It includes classics like Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott and Julia Cameron – all excellent reads – but it occurred to me that a number of my favourite writing resources were missing. Here, in no particular order, is my add-on list of 7 More Best Books About Writing.
1. On Writing – Stephen King
When ‘On Writing’ was first recommended to me, I hummed and hawed. I’m not a fan of the kind of horror fiction, I automatically associate with the name Stephen King. So, if that’s what you’re thinking right now: STOP. Regardless of whether you are a fan of his writing – and let’s not forget, this is the guy who wrote ‘Shawshank Redemption‘ – there is no denying he is a prolific writer and who better to tell you about writing than a guy who writes lots and lots of books? But more than that, ‘On Writing’ is both intriguing memoir of a writer and a no-nonsense, practical advice about writing, by someone who knows how. Forget everything you think you know about Stephen King – this is a ESSENTIAL READ for writers.
2. Becoming a Writer – Dorothea Brande
Probably the first book about writing I ever read – a stalwart companion of the beginner’s creative writing class – and still relevant 80 years after publication, so deservedly, a classic. Practical and inspirational, Brande is a gracious and encouraging tutor, using the writers of her period – Virgina Woolfe, E.M. Forster, Edith Wharton – to draw out the writer within. A great place for all aspiring writers to start, and to refer back to in establishing a writing practice.
3. 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem – Ruth Padel
’52 Ways Of Looking At A Poem’ is drawn from Ruth Padel‘s popular ‘Sunday Poem‘ series, in the Independent on Sunday, which set out to de-bunk the myths around poetry as a literary form and open it up to a wider audience. I love her comment about readers who are happy to devour crime and mystery novels where they have no idea what’s going on yet recoil in terror from the same in a poem! In each essay, Padel examines a modern poem and explains its poetic devices, not only making poetry more accessible to the general reader but providing a masterclass on form and construction for the budding poet.
4. Self Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Brown & Dave King
Self Editing for Fiction Writers was recommended by Gerard Donovan, author of Julius Winsome and the Mann Booker long-listed Schopenhauer’s Telescope, at a Faber Academy Short Story Masterclass, in Dublin, alongside short story writer, Claire Keegan. When a respected, published writer pulls a well-worn copy of a book from his or her pocket, waves it in the air and swears by it, you take note. This is the book for the developing or advanced writer who want to make the leap from talented up-and-comer to published author – it covers all the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of writing, that shows a prospective magazine editor or publishing house that you mean business.
5. Negotiating With The Dead – Margaret Atwood
I love Margaret Atwood‘s work and when I discovered that she’s written a book about writing, I jumped on it. Negotiating The Dead is derived from a series of lectures on the role of the writer, Atwood gave at Cambridge University in 2000. Each chapter is devoted to a different writing scenario or dilemma, illuminated by anecdotes from Atwood‘s own experiences as a writer plus a wealth of literary quotes.
6. Ways of Seeing – John Berger
“Seeing comes before words.”
Not a traditional book about writing but arguably something even more fundamental to a writer – a book about how we view the world. Ways of Seeing is made up of a series of visual essays, exploring and critiquing the hidden language of art and imagery; companion to a BBC series of the same name – still available to view online and well worth the effort. Although dating from the early 1970’s, with the advertising images (not to mention politics) definitely showing their age, the message holds true, drawing a trajectory from the oil painting to the instant imagery of advertising and pointing directly on toward pop culture and the visual overload of the digital age.
7. The Writing Life – Annie Dillard
“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as a dying friend. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.”
An undisputed classic, Pulitzer Prize-winner Dillard‘s take on the writer’s life does not pull any punches, making it clear that writing is sheer bloody hard work, not a lifestyle choice. Yet, it is not without its rewards and if you choose to climb the mountain, there is no better guide. This is the book to read before you leave your job / husband or sell your car / house in your quest to become a writer.
Of course, no list of books about writing could ever be complete. Do you have any favourites not mentioned here? What books on writing do you go back to for inspiration? Whose advice do you swear by? Leave a comment with your recommendations!