I’m sometimes asked about what ‘how-to’ writing books are good. I usually say that 90% of them are total garbage. If you need to be told to buy a computer and/or notebook and pen, you’re probably in the wrong game. BUT – there are some excellent ones, that will provide either top advice, or consolation, or both. I should say I haven’t read ALL the books (though it must be close; it was my favourite procrastination tool for a long time pre-publication). But here are my suggestions.
1. Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
Teaches you how to live as a writer. A great source of comfort and info on how to break through your blocks and just write.
2. Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life
Same but is the only thing I’ve read that really acknowledges the jealousy and crazy-making insecurity we may feel sometimes (or all the time).
3.Stephen King, On Writing
Part memoir, part guide, all fascinating. I wish he’d write a full memoir.
Maass is an agent and also an author, and this is the only thing I’ve ever read that actually shows you how to build a bestseller from the premise up.
There is a LOT of info in this about all aspects of writing. I’d recommend dipping in as you need it.
6. Louise Doughty,A Novel in a Year: A Novelist’s Guide to Being a Novelist
Although I don’t much like doing writing exercises, I loved the can-do approach of this one.
7. Blake Snyder, Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need
It’s screenwriting, yes, and I urge my students not to get too hung up on screenplay form (you don’t need to have a second act turning point and so on, it’s a novel), but this is very useful for building characters we sympathise with.
Another book that actually tells you how to build and strengthen your story. Very readable and admirably low on screenwriting jargon. There’s one on drama too.
More screenplay – but this one also doesn’t overwhelm with diagrams and structure, just the bones and blood of building a story.
10. John Mullan, How Novels Work
A bit technical but hugely useful for learning the proper terms and antecedents of all those tricky little narrative techniques you think you invented.
Which ones would you add?