Reading about writing: Some of the best reference guides

This is a post by Novel Publicity President, Emlyn Chand/By blurring the lines between avid reading and productive writing, you’ll make the transition far easier. A great first step for pursuing the craft of writing is to study up — pick up a book and read about it. Of course, you’re not limited to just books. There are countless blogs on the topic (like this one), and monthly subscriptions to periodicals such as “Writer’s Digest” and “The Writer” provide gads of great advice as well as a regular reminder that you need to get to work! But, I’d like to focus on some of the wonderful books that are out there — books that provide motivation, teach you the fundamentals, discuss rookie mistakes and spare no details on the brutality accompanying any attempt to get published.

The how-to book that resonated most with me was penned by David Morrell (author of “First Blood” AKA Rambo): “Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft.” Morrell provides the most balanced overview of the craft as a whole, the best snippets of exemplary writing from published authors and the most comprehensive advice for dealing with Hollywood should your film rights get optioned.

The two books that are perhaps the most popular with would-be writers are Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” and Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” King’s instructional guide has had the greatest positive impact on my own writing. All who have read the rough manuscript of my novel have pointed to a place in the story where the writing becomes noticeably better — this corresponds with the exact time I read “On Writing” and really finally learned the meaning of the golden rule for writers: Show, don’t tell. While King’s take on writing is unequivocally well-received, readers seem to have a love-hate relationship with “Bird by Bird.” Many enjoy Lamott’s eloquent reassurance that “Yes, fellow writer, you are a bit crazy — but that’s okay.” I, being of the eh-not-so-much camp, find that it meanders too far from what is expected (and required).

The five part “Write Great Fiction” series from “Writer’s Digest” takes an in-depth look at various aspects of writing, including: plot and structure, description and setting, dialogue, characters and viewpoint, and self-editing. These are great to read if you are struggling with a specific element of the craft. I especially recommend the volume that discusses creating authentic, streamlined dialogue.

Lastly, I would like to recommend two books that you may want to visit when you have a firm grasp on the basics and have already established a productive writing routine. These are Noah Lukeman’s “First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile” and Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style.” Lukeman’s tips are best employed by those who already have a working manuscript, but please don’t forget to revisit this little gem of a guide — it offers excellent examples of writing gone wrong, provides detailed advice on how to fix existing problems, and offers well-thought-out exercises. I recommend waiting on “The Elements of Style” not so that its advice is better used later on in the writing process, but because reading it too early might be overwhelming for the novice writer. I incorporated its rules for punctuation, grammar, and word usage into the third draft of my manuscript without any problems — the Ctrl+F function is, as always, a life saver!

This, of course, is just a glimpse of the wealth of material that caters towards writers of all experience levels. As productive and would-be writers alike, we must never stop learning, never stop seeking out new advice and never stop striving to improve our talents.

 


Emlyn Chand, President of Novel Publicity

Emlyn Chand was born with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). Novel Publicity's mascot is a Sun Conure, thanks to her obsession with birds–and she gets to decide anyway since she is the company's founder and president. Although her first novel Farsighted won the prestigious Writer's Digest Self-Published Novel of the Year award in 2012 for the YA category, she now writes most of her fiction under her “real” name, Melissa Storm. Learn more or connect with her (or her Sun Conure, Ducky!) on either of her author websites:  www.emlynchand.com or www.melstorm.com. You can also friend her on Facebook, tweet with her @novelpublicity, or send her an email via [email protected].

Martina

Excellent choices in this post. I think I’ve read all of them at least once.

I am a bit surprised to see that Peter Elbow’s “Writing With Power” is not mentioned. I can’t think of a single writer or English professor that I know who has not read it or assigned it as required reading. In terms of composition pedagogy I’m not a huge Elbow fan; I will always side with Bartholomae in that debate. Still, when it comes to advice about becoming an actual writer–not merely someone who can produce writing that is academic and grammatically correct–Elbow has managed to pack quite a bit of sound advice in “Writing With Power.” It is definitely a book about writing that I recommend reading.

Also, I think you are spot on to say that “The Elements of Style” might be overwhelming. Sure, it is a must have book but I think much of the advice Strunk and White offer is best suited for academic writing. An aspiring fiction writer could easily find his or her voice stifled by strictly adhering to its advice. In fact, I would go so far as to say deliberately breaking many of those Strunk and White rules is going to be necessary in some cases. For example, Selby’s “Last Exit to Brooklyn” and Ellis’s “American Psycho” do not conform to Strunk and White’s style guidelines but they both have unique narrative styles.

    Emlyn

    Great feedback, Martina. Would you be willing to do a writer’s review of Elbow’s book? I’d love to have some more reviews of writing resources on our site. Send us an email if you think you might like to do this 🙂

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