We’ve found these writing resources to be helpful and inspiring. Do you have a tricky grammar question? Do you like to read about the trials and tribulations of other writers (so that your own attic full of rejection slips don’t seem so painful)? Do you need a writing coach/cheerleader to rev you up and send you back to the page newly energized, dedicated, and creative? Then check out some of these resources. Give them as a gift to yourself or to a writer friend. These are books you will go back to again and again.
Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, Hallie Ephron. In this 2005 work, Ephron takes the mystery out of the writing process, making it less daunting for beginner and established writer alike. Writers working in any genre can use these tips.
Invisible Ink, Brian McDonald. Published in 2010, it is a simple and graceful guide to the essential elements of storytelling. Most of the examples come from screenplays since McDonald is a screenwriter, but the basics apply to any work of fiction.
Story, Robert McKee. Writers pay hundreds of dollars to attend McKee’s workshops. McKee, called the Stanislavski of writing, explains the magic of story construction in 480 pages.
Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass. Author of 17 novels and literary agent Maass offers first-class instruction on how to make your book rise above the competition and succeed in a crowded marketplace. A workbook is also available.
How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them, Sol Stein. Veteran writer and editor Sol Stein recreates his popular workshop in print. If you learn one thing from this book, it is how to focus on the reader — the person buying your book, the agent, or the editor. This guide will make you look at your novel-in-progress with new eyes. Stein’s book is chocked full of writing solutions.
The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. This is the granddaddy of writing books. Originally written in 1959, this slim volume began as a self-published work by Cornell English professor William Strunk. It was known as “the little book” on campus. After Strunk died, one of his students, New Yorker essayist E.B. White, was commissioned to revise — and revive — the book. This resource has “”rich deposits of gold” for the writer willing to mine them. Its only drawback is that it lacks an index for easy-to-find references, but White’s writing style is so enjoyable, you won’t mind getting “lost” a few times.
If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland. This 1938 classic is powerful inspirational stuff. Spunky Ueland (she set an international swimming record for over 80-year-olds and was knighted by the king of Norway) maintains “everybody is talented, original and has something to say” — so if you want to write, then do it. The creative impulse beats inside us like the hammer of a heart, and this book helps you follow that beat.
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg. This could be subtitled “Zen and the Writing Chick.” Writing teacher Goldberg mixes high-energy sparks of writing wisdom with blissful moments of personal revelation. These short essays are packed with inspiration and writing exercises. If you have ever stared at a blank page with fear, this is a must read. Another Goldberg offering to jumpstart your writing is the 1990 guide, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life.
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, Julia Cameron. Journalist, screenwriter, and teacher Cameron started a writing tidal wave with writers and nonwriters alike with this 1992 book/12-week program. Through writing daily “morning pages” and weekly exercises, you learn how to tap your creative spirit (or shake it awake from a Rip Van Winkle slumber). This book has inspired discussion groups, websites, and workshops — because it works. Cameron has two other excellent writing books in the same spirit: The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart and The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott. The title of this 1994 bestseller comes from a story of Lamott’s then 10-year-old brother who was overwhelmed by writing a report on birds and their father’s advice to “just take it bird by bird.” And that’s the way you should take this witty guide through the writer’s world. Open the book to any point and begin reading — just an essay or two — and then take that you-can-do-it spirit to the paper where you create word by word.
For Writers Only, Sophy Burnham. In this 1994 favorite, you will find pearls from great writers: the motto Zola kept in his workroom (“No day without lines.”), Stendhal’s personal writing rule (“I see but one rule: to be clear.”), and many more. Burnham offers up an inspiring dish. Who knows: what worked for the likes of Hemingway and Toni Morrison might work for you, too.
The Writing Life, Annie Dillard. The Boston Globe called this slender 1989 volume “a kind of spiritual Strunk & White.” In her quiet, imagery-laden style, Dillard explores the landscape of writing and being a writer. This is a friend who sits up with you in the quiet of the night, pats your arm, and says, “It will be all right, dear, in the end. You will see.”
What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers, Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. There are more than 75 writing exercises in this 1990 handbook for both beginning and experienced writers. Exercises are designed to develop and refine two basic skills: writing like a writer and thinking like a writer. This is a writer’s block buster.
Writing Without the Muse: 50 Beginning Exercises for the Creative Writer, Beth Baruch Joselow. “You want to write, but you don’t know where to begin.’ Does this sound familiar? This 1996 practical writing guide gets to the straight stuff fast. The exercises are light-hearted and specific.
The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, John Gardner. Gardner admits that while the ability to write well is a gift, “writing ability is mainly a product of good teaching supported by a deep-down love of writing.” This 1983 guide dissects the “craft” of writing, takes it apart and puts it back together again — leaving the reader with the feeling that somewhere a light bulb has clicked on.
On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner. Gardner was known as a writer who brought fiction to life and a teacher who brought writing to life. In this 1983 book, he tells it like it is, answering the questions of the dedicated writing student. (Both The Art of Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist were published after Gardner’s death in 1982.)
Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print, Lawrence Block. Long-time Writer’s Digest contributor and mystery writer Block offers a step-by-step guide to novel writing in this 1979 work.
Turning Life into Fiction, Robin Hemley. Hemley maintains fiction is everywhere: in overheard conversations, in offbeat relatives, on the news, in childhood memories. In this 1994 work, Hemley shows you how to observe the details, filter them, reshape them, and turn them into living, breathing fiction.
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, Syd Field. This step-by-step guide from concept to finished script was written in 1979. It is helpful not only to aspiring screenwriters, but to fiction writers as well. Many of Field’s tips are quite applicable to good fiction.
Zen and the Art of Screenwriting: Insights and Interviews, William Froug. Froug gives us a glimpse from the screenwriting trenches in this 1996 tapestry that weaves insightful essays with in-depth interviews with top screenwriters.
Structuring Your Novel: From Basic Idea to Finished Manuscript, Robert C. Meredith & John D. Fitzgerald. Written in 1972, this book examines the challenges of writing a novel. It puts some of the greatest novels under the microscope — Tom Jones, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Madame Bovary, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Grapes of Wrath — to show how they met these challenges.