Tools of the Writer’s Trade: 7 More Best Books About Writing

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.

Stephen King - On Writing1. 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

becoming a writerProbably 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

Ruth Padel - 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem

’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 edit

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

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

John Berger - Ways of Seeing

“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

annie dillard - the writing life

“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!


What I Learned By Turning My Writing Into A Word Cloud

As things wind down for Christmas, I’ve been having bit of fun creating a word cloud from my debut poetry collection, How to Lose Your Home & Save Your Life.

The idea came via Jo Bell – UK poet, Canal Laureate and creator of the poetry and writing blog ’52’ – who recently shared a word cloud of her forthcoming collection, ‘Kith’, on Facebook.

It’s a bit of fun but also a great way to get a fresh perspective on existing writing. The cloud allows me to see the entire collection in a snapshot – the more prominent words tell me if I’m hitting the mood and tone I’m looking for and also give me a sense of which words or literary devices I may rely on a little too heavily, eg. if the word ‘Like‘ features prominently, then it may be time to cut back on the use of simile. We all have a go-to writing toolbox and a good way to hit the refresh button on our work is to kick away a few of those verbal crutches!

What I didn’t expect – and am really enjoying – is discovering little mini poems in the juxtapositions of the cloud’s random arrangement:

– Think blue drumming words;
– Tree’s hands fold half-beat whispers;
– Old wind-eyes walk shadow morning;
– Ghost years ground skin, beginning bodies wings;
– Sea silence, speak yellow.

These conjour strange and curious images – perfect as idea prompts for new writing!

If you’d like to try this writing tip, check out word cloud creators Wordle and Tagxedo. I liked Tagxedo because it offers a choice of shapes and pretty colours PLUS whenever I changed the font, it created a completely different arrangement, with lots of new mini poems waiting to be found.

Advice to Writers: Margaret Atwood’s 10 Rules of Writing

More writing tips today, this time from poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist, Margaret Atwood – one of my favourite writers. What I love about these lists is they give us a little peek into the minds of writers and what matters to them.

In this case, an in-flight writing trauma looms large – the muse, after all, can strike at any time – which makes me dearly wish all 10 of her writing tips were about covert creativity in constrained environments, or the relative advantages and disadvantages of writing across various modes of transport…

  • Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

Continue reading

Advice to Writers: Hilary Mantel’s 10 Rules of Writing

More advice to writers, this time from Hilary Mantel, double Booker Prize winning author of Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up The Bodies (2012), and the first woman to receive the award twice.

  • Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant.
  • Read Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande. Then do what it says, including the tasks you think are impossible. You will particularly hate the advice to write first thing in the morning, but if you can manage it, it might well be the best thing you ever do for yourself. This book is about becoming a writer from the inside out. Many later advice manuals derive from it. You don’t ­really need any others, though if you want to boost your confidence, “how to” books seldom do any harm. You can kick-start a whole book with some little writing exercise.

Continue reading

Advice to Writers: Sarah Waters’ 10 Rules of Writing

Great writing tips from author, Sarah Waters – although she talks about the rules of writing novels, most are equally true of poetry.

  • Read like mad. But try to do it analytically – which can be hard, because the better and more compelling a novel is, the less conscious you will be of its devices. It’s worth trying to figure those devices out, however: they might come in useful in your own work. I find watching films also instructive. Nearly every modern Hollywood blockbuster is hopelessly long and baggy. Trying to visualise the much better films they would have been with a few radical cuts is a great exercise in the art of story-telling. Which leads me to . . .

Continue reading