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Generally speaking, I hesitate just a tiny bit when people ask me for recommendations on “how to write” resources. All too often, I see people who “study writing” for months, even years, before actually writing.
So, before I go any further, let me say this:
The absolute best thing you can do if you want to learn to write is … write.
There is no learning experience, no class, no book, no seminar, no conference that will teach you nearly as much about writing as actually writing a book. From start to finish. And that finish bit is crucial. Lots of people start a book. Starting a book is just that … a start. Push through past the opening pages/chapters. Finish a book. Or a short story, or essay, or screenplay, whatever your medium.
Please believe me, the lessons you’ll learn by pushing through from start to finish are ones you won’t find anywhere else.
There is absolutely something to be said about studying writing and improving your craft, as long as that studying time goes hand in hand with actual writing practice.
Because most writers tend to be readers, books are often the first place we turn when we want to learn. Lucky for us, many writers have been generous with their time, sharing the ins-and-outs of the writing process.
Here are my favorite books for writers:
On Writing, Stephen King
It’s written by a master, so … pretty much required reading, as far as I’m concerned. Now, prepare yourself: it’s more of a memoir than a true “how to.” But it’s an insightful look into what it means to be a writer, written by one of the greats of our time.
Write Naked, Jennifer Probst
Okay, yes, Jen is a good friend of mine, but truthfully, I’d recommend this for anyone wanting to write romance, even if I’d never heard of her. See, romance is a tricky genre. For starters, it can be incredibly lucrative—it’s a billion dollar industry, the best selling book genre there is period.
But because there are so damn many romance novels out there, there’s a definite “anyone can write one” perception. Absolutely true. Anyone can write one. And with the evolution fo self-publishing, anyone can publish one, too! But not everyone will write a good one. That’s where Probst comes in. She walks you through the nuances of the genre, the ups-the-downs, the glories and the frustrations, and how to craft a great love story in a saturated market.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print, Renni Browne and Dave King
Not the sexiest title or cover on the market, but of all the writing books I’ve read, this is hands down, the most influential. It won’t teach you plot, or character, but it teaches you something I view as just as important: sophistication. I credit this book almost entirely with removing the “clunky/awkward/amateur” from my writing. The tricks I learned in this book while working on my first manuscript are things I still use today, two dozen books later, and are probably a hallmark of my writing style!
The Hero’s Two Journeys, Chris Vogler and Michael Hauge
I’m cheating. This is a audio program (you can also find it as an dvd), not available in book form. But I’m putting it on here, because it’s the best resource on the planet for learning the art of storytelling. It’s a little bit geared towards screenwriters instead of novelists, but that’s almost a plus, because it focuses on plot/character instead of the nuances of writing.
Michal Hauge and Chris Vogler (the speakers) were actually recommended to me by the incomparable Kristan Higgins when I, as a new, unpublished author, worked up the courage to ask my idol for some writing advice. I’m eternally grateful. Without this program, I wouldn’t have understood that character/plot aren’t two separate elements of a book … it’s about the two together that make a story.
Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, Jordan Rosenfeld
Of all the books on the list, this one is perhaps the most dry, but it’s another one that has had a lasting impact on my writing career. Before reading this, I imagined a book as one big long thing, broken up at random increments by chapters. WRONG. A book (a good book, anyway), is a collection of scenes—mini stories that can stand on their own, to combine into one bigger story. Rosenfeld says it better. Trust me. Read it.