My passion for collecting and reading books knows no bounds
My passion for collecting and reading books almost knows no bounds and my wife and I haunt used bookstores and antique stores looking to fill in gaps in my collections. I have entire bookcases of history and science fiction books, and I’m only missing one or two titles in both the Hardy boys and Tom Swift Junior series to complete both.
As a full-time garden writer, my collection of old and valuable gardening books allowed me to write an award winning book about older garden books and their advice. I note I started collecting when prices were more reasonable than they are today.
But as a full-time writer for the last 25 years, I only have 15 books on writing.
The 7 books below are the most read, reread and marked up.
“On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft”
This appears to be everybody’s favorite book for writers and prospective writers. I own a copy I’ve read it and yes, it’s motivating. It may not be one of my favorites and I can’t say my writing is better because I read it. But I’m drawn to it again and again and that may be its greatest benefit — an ongoing reminder of what it is like to be a writer.
“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, little understand very much about what they do — not why it works when it’s good, nor why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.”
I admire anybody who’d start a book off like that.
“Zen in the Art of Writing”
This is an excellent book aimed at motivating writers and “how-to-be a better writer”. Bradbury’s use of the exercise of collecting words and making lists of them alone and in combination have driven some of his best writing. He describes taking several of these word lists as he combined words and produced classic stories. I note if you don’t want to collect the words yourself and do the exercise of associating them, you can download the app “Brainstormer” (to Apple App Store)
Bradbury is the writer I’d like to be ‘when I grow up’. He’s written everything from pulp magazines and books to movies and theatre and is likely best known for Fahrenheit 451.
“Thomas Wolfe ate the world and vomited lava. Dickens dined at a different table every hour of his life. Molière, tasting society, turned to pick up his scalpel, as did Pope and shop. Everywhere you look in the literary cosmos, the great ones are busy loving and hating. Have you given up this primary business as obsolete in your own writing? What fun you are missing them.”
“Creating Short Fiction”
If you’re at all interested in writing short stories, this would be my most highly recommended book. Knight leads you through story building, situations, characters, and if you’ll come away from this 197 page book with a far better understanding of how to craft a short story.
“The most valuable thing you can learn is how to use your own experiences that help you project yourself in imagination into the lives of other people. Write what you know, by all means, when you can, but fill in the spaces by finding out what you need to know.”
“The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller”
This is perhaps my most marked up book with a significant number of Post-it notes and do-not-lose-this page notes. The one thing that he does is give you a 22 step story structure and while this is essentially a movie structure it is easily adaptable for novels. I note other how-to-write authors are adapting what he’s written to their own how-to books.
“Remember the simple rule of thumb: to have a moral need, the character must be hurting at least one other person at the beginning of the story.”
Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
Roy Peter Clark
Again I’ve heavily marked up and made notes in my copy of this book. I consider it one book you should seriously add to your library.
“Active verbs move the action and reveal the actors.
Passive verbs emphasize the receiver, the victim.
The verb “to be” links words and ideas.”
That pretty much sums up that issue.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print.
Rennie Brown and David King
This was one of the first how-to books on writing that a friend recommended I read. The highlights in this book are the numerous checklists and exercises.
Before you get to your third and final draft, it’s an excellent idea to review this book and apply its lessons.
“So when you come across an explanation of a characters emotion, simply cut the explanation. If the emotion is still shown, then the explanation wasn’t needed. If the emotion isn’t shown, rewrite the passage so that it is.”
Techniques Of The Selling Writer
Dwight V. Swain.
From the back cover: “This book provides solid instruction for persons who want to write and sell fiction, not just to talk and study about it.”
This is an excellent book for structuring your stories and for understanding what makes a story and how you go about creating it.
“Actually, the happy ending is infinitely less important than the satisfying ending. Given reader fulfillment, you don’t necessarily have to close with a clinch, the Marines landing, or the villain snarling, “foiled again!”
Forget the phony, therefore. Distortion of reality will get you nowhere. What your reader seeks is less nirvana than the feeling, “this is as it should be.”
Again, while I have other books about writing on my shelves including Robert Mckee’s “Story”, “The Chicago Manual of Style”, and an old copy of Strunk and White, the seven books above have formed the foundation for my writing career.
I hope they help you as well.