Eight Favourite Books on Writing

Happy New Year!

In honour of resolutions and all that, I decided to start out the new year by sorting through my collection of books about writing. (Okay, the truth is that I need to move the bookshelf so I can plug in a phone cord.) There are some discards — books that never really spoke to me, books about kinds of writing that I’ve decided not to pursue. But there are also some treasures.

Some of these aren’t the usual writer’s list. I have those, too — Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott, and a daunting and as-yet-unread copy of Story by Robert McKee. The copy of ‘A Passion for Narrative’ by Jack Hodgins that I won at my high school graduation. But those aren’t the ones that I find myself going back to. And maybe it’s because my focus of late has been on craft, but I’m tending to choose the books that give me something of the nuts-and-bolts of the whole process, rather than the books that inspire.

Without further blathering, here are the books that I pulled from my shelf that I would not part with.

The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler. This was the first book that I read that dealt with mythic structure and the hero’s journey. I liked the second edition so much that I bought the third edition when it came out. I haven’t bonded with the new one the same way, though; it doesn’t have that lovely, dog-eared look that the old one had.

Chapter after Chapter, by Heather Sellers. There are some similarities between this book and Bird by Bird, at least thematically. This is the one that keeps me on track, though. It’s a wonderful guide to have with you when you tackle a novel.

Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maas. I hate the title of this one. Hate it so much that I’m tempted to get out my sewing machine and stitch together one of those cutesy, quilted book jackets that are sold at craft fairs in Harlequin sizes, just for this book. But if you can get past the presumption and oily-slick feeling of the title, it’s a great book with some wonderful advice on improving your work.

On Writing, by Stephen King. Okay, so one of the classics made the list. I love this book. It’s the first book that I recommend to anyone who tells me they want to write. I’m not a big Stephen King fan, mostly because I’m a big chicken and reading scary books=sleepless nights, but I love what he has to say about the craft of writing and his own journey.

Room to Write, by Bonni Goldberg. Yup. Not the usual Goldberg. But this is, hands-down, my absolute favourite book of writing exercises.

Novel Metamorphosis, by Darcy Pattison. What I like best about this book? It tells me things that I hadn’t thought of before. Things that, in retrospect, should have been obvious. I discovered this book when I was already partway through a major revision, and I hate to interrupt a revision mid-stream. But once I finish, I’m going back and tackling the manuscript again, with Pattison’s book in hand. (Take that, work-in-progress!)  My only regret is that it’s a workbook, and I refuse to write in the book. I’ve been creating my own set of worksheets to go along with the exercises. It’s a cumbersome process, but at least I’ll be able to use them more than once. (I’d offer them for download, but that’s not exactly fair to Darcy Pattison, is it?)

And of course, the book on character that I’ve already written one post about: Getting Into Character, by Brandilyn Collins. This one takes a look at what writers can learn from the method actor’s craft. I struggle, sometimes, with really getting into a character’s skin, and this book gave me some new ways to approach the problem. Lots of books will give you lists and lists of interview questions and facts that you need to know about your character. Noah Lukeman’s ‘The Plot Thickens’ does that, and does it well, so that the questions force you to really get inside your character’s head. But I’ve never liked the lists of questions. I have trouble taking them seriously. Collins’ book was something new, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Finally, and maybe it shouldn’t even be on this list because I’m still reading it for the first time, Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickhkam. I’m pretty sure that I’m driving my husband nuts with this one. I’m working through it slowly, and it seems like every section has a new little gem to offer–which I feel the need to blab about non-stop until I’ve internalized it and worked out how it applies to each one of my seventeen gazillionty works in progress. It will probably deserve its own post, once I’ve finished reading it. At this rate, that should be sometime in 2012…

So there you have it. Many writing books are dear to my heart, but these are my current favourites. If you’re working your way through a new year’s resolution that has to do with finally finishing that novel, or polishing your manuscript so it’s ready for submission, you might want to check them out. Heck, if you live nearby, I’ll lend you my copy. But only if you promise to give it back.

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4 Responses to Eight Favourite Books on Writing

  1. I loved Stephen King’s “On Writing” also. But for picture book writers, “Writing Picture Books” by Ann Whitford Paul is an amazingly helpful practical book to craft picture books. It inspires interesting revision work.

    • Erin Thomas says:

      Thanks, Carol! I hadn’t heard about that one. I don’t write picture books, but I’m interested in them, so I might have to check it out!

  2. Noelle Fedde says:

    I am completely impressed with this rundown. I’ve got many writing books on my shelf – about as many as I have cookbooks in my kitchen – but sadly I don’t use either library much. I wing my fiction as often as I do my recipes.

    You’ve inspired me to get my nose out of novels for a while, and into some hard- core learning. Gems are good, so I might have to tackle Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickhkam.

    Thanks for the list!

  3. Erin Thomas says:

    Thanks, Noelle! I should probably spend less time reading books about writing and more time winging it. There must be a happy medium somewhere. 🙂

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