Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Best Books About Writing Fiction

A writer's library is often overcrowded with stacks of favorite books and authors. Every bookstore contains a section devoted entirely to the craft of writing, so making a choice can be daunting. Each writer will find different books useful depending on their needs. There are many standard items that writers should have on hand if they intend to write fiction.

There are a number of reference books that a writer should have in his or her toolkit. First, find out what modern authors are considered the best in your genre and pick up a few of their works. A copy of a style guide, such as "The Elements of Style" is an essential. Books on general writing improvement, such as "On Writing Well" can provide guidance for both fiction and nonfiction work.
If they are seeking publication, they should consider investing in the most recent edition of "Writer's Market." And of course, a high-quality dictionary would round out the collection nicely.

However, when it comes to references that are specific to fiction writers, the choices are much broader. These books contain different techniques, exercises, and personal experience from their authors that can help a new author find their own voice. This list contains ten of the most entertaining and informative books on writing.

1. "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott is a talented, witty writer. She manages to combine her personal anecdotes with practical advice seamlessly. I love the title of this book - much of the advice really does pertain to both subjects! Her focus is on taking things one step at a time, and not becoming overwhelmed with the process.

2. "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg
Although she has several books on writing, this is Ms. Goldber's crown jewel. She emphasizes the importance of practicing and free writing. In any other art form, it is expected that the person has to practice before they share their work with the world. However, too often writers seem to believe they have to be working towards something. Practice is never a waste of time!

3. "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" by Steven King
Half autobiography and half instructions, this book gives an honest look at King's life and attitudes towards writing. He does not sugar-coat his advice for young writers. This is frequently listed as one of the best writing books out there.

4. "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy" by Orson Scott Card
This is the only book on my list that is specific to genre writing, but I feel confident in it since SF and Fantasy are such popular genres right now. Card uses wonderful examples to demonstrate subjects like world-building and character development. Several chapters really would apply to writers of any genre.

5. "Steering the Craft" by Ursula K. LeGuin
LeGuin's credits alone justify her writing a book about fiction writing. Her fiction is tight and polished, and I respect her ability with words. This book exceeded my expectations and helped me focus my own work a little better.

6. "Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True" by Elizabeth Berg
Berg maintains a positive attitude throughout her book. Many writers do focus on their hardships and try to keep new writers realistic, but Berg maintains the attitude that passion is the most important element of writing. I certainly agree!

7. "The Tao of Writing" by Ralph L Wahlstrom
The back cover blurb of this book begins with the line "The creative process doesn't have to be torturous." As someone who has dealt with writer's block and sagging middles in my work, it was an appealing line! Wahlstrom connects the 12 principles of Tao with writing in practical ways. It also includes activities, which is a huge bonus for me.

8. "The 3 A.M Epiphany" by Brian Kiteley
"Epiphany" is entirely devoted to writing exercises - more than 200 of them, in fact. There are sections on nearly any aspect of writing that you could need work on. I suggest doing one every day, just for practice.

9. "Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life"
People laugh when I put this on my list, but the book is great fun. It combines some of the best Peanuts strips featuring Snoopy writing his novel with articles and advice by32 authors. It is heartwarming, funny, joyful, and whimsical.

10. "Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life" by Natalie Goldberg
This is the follow up to Goldberg's successful "Writing Down the Bones" and deals with writing as a practice. Goldberg writes like you are a friend she is sharing her process with, making it a very personal work.

While books on fiction writing can provide insight, inspiration, and exercises that benefit the writer, do not hide in them instead of putting your words on the page. Take the tools offered in these and other writing books and use them to create your own work. Happy writing!

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