Tuesday, December 9, 2014

9 Favorite Books for Writers

Looking for a good book about writing? Here are nine books that have resonated with me throughout the years. I keep nearly all of them with arm's reach of my writing desk.

For Beginners

One of the biggest hurdles for someone who wants to begin writing is gaining enough confidence to get started. These three books inspired me to get into the habit of creating.

1. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. This was the first writing book I ever read and is a perennial classic for beginners. Goldberg uses gentle wisdom, Zen practice, and anecdotes about life in New Mexico to inspire writers to create without fear.

2.  The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. This is a great book for those occasions when you want to write but feel stuck. While the tone of the book is a little over-the-top at times, Cameron does a terrific job of unlocking the potential in people who might otherwise view themselves as non-creative types. Even though I read this book over a decade ago, her insistence on daily writing practice and on 'filling the well' by engaging in all kinds of creative pursuits still speaks to me.

3. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. The minute you sign up for Creative Writing 101, this is the first book on your required reading list. (Or at least that's the way it used to be. I'll assume nothing's changed since the book is still in print.) The book is an introductory course on craft unto itself as Gardner digs deep into literary theory and analysis. It belongs on every writers bookshelf.

For Aspiring Authors

Once you understand the basics, it's energizing to read about successful authors and the creative process.

4. On Writing by Stephen King. Half memoir, half writing manual, King's book has become a modern classic. The story of how his wife rescued his Carrie manuscript from the trash bin and the enormous success that book would bring is riveting, emotional, and well worth a read for those dreaming of literary fame.

5. Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters by John Steinbeck. This book is a collection of letters Steinbeck wrote to his editor as a daily exercise while writing East of Eden. Best to be savored in small bites, it's the kind of book to read at the beginning of a writing session, when you're trying to drum up enough motivation to get to work. Discovering that even Steinbeck had moments of doubt and distraction has a way of soothing the soul on those days when writing feels like a chore.

6. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. When the work gets bogged down or I have a professional setback, Dillard's lyrical prose puts me back on track. This slim, quiet book is a good reminder to focus more on the urge to create and the discipline of writing than on elusive publishing success.

For Professionals

These books are helpful for writers who are already published or are on the path to publication.

7. How Fiction Works by James Wood. This book is incredibly dense and will be most helpful to those writers who are already familiar with the process of writing a novel. Much of what Wood writes about will seem too abstract for the beginning writer, but it's packed with insight for those with writing experience. It's important to remember that Wood is a critic and some of what he expresses is opinion rather than gospel. Still, I've found it to be an invaluable addition to my library. There is so much to absorb, I recommend reading it with a highlighter.

8. The Savvy Author's Guide to Book Publicity by Lissa Warren. Published in 2008, this book is a bit old and I would love to see a revised edition that includes social media. Still, there is a wealth of information here that will never be out of date--such has how to prepare for media interviews, write press releases, and hire a publicist. The bottom line that echoes throughout the book, and one that any writer should constantly keep in mind, is that authors are largely responsible for their own publicity.

9. Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame edited by Robin Robertson. Before you go out on your first book tour, you must read this hilarious collection of most embarrassing moments by 70 well-respected authors. Then, when you're sitting there at your signing, twiddling your thumbs because no one has shown up, instead of feeling sorry for yourself you'll just be glad that you weren't like Margaret Atwood who was forced to sign copies of her book The Edible Woman in the men's underwear department of clothing store. Many of these stories so cringe-worthy and so unbelievably horrible you'll want to throw the book across the room--but you won't because it's just too damn funny.

What are your favorite books for writers?


Emma said...

I really like On Writing Fiction by David Jauss (originally published as Alone With All That Could Happen): http://www.davidjauss.com/on_writing_fiction__originally_published_as_alone_with_all_that_could_happen__67537.htm

Jim Baumer said...

Great list, Stephanie.

King's book is what made me realize that I didn't have to spend the rest of my life wishing I could write. It made me see that I could invest time, and have it pay dividends.

Getting up at 4:30 am and writing an hour before my crappy corporate job in insurance back in 2003 launched my writing career. It's never been an easy slog, but I got beyond the myth that writing comes from some muse sitting on your shoulder--no, actually, it's hard work.

Some books on this list that I don't know about. I'll be checking them out as possible recommendations for my writing students.

Maria Padian said...

This is a great list; thanks! One of my favorites is "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott. I celebrate Book Birthdays (also known as Pub Dates) with a glass of champagne while rereading her chapter on Publishing. She puts it all in perspective!