Book Recommendations (That Actually Help You Write)

If I had a dime for every book that Writers Digest has tried to sell me, I would be a very rich woman. There is always someone trying to sell you a book with the super secret secrets of how to write a novel, how to find an agent, how to edit your novel, how to get your novel published–the list goes on and on (as you probably know). And, as you may have discovered after your five hundredth purchase from Writers Circle, or whatever group you have decided to follow advice from, none of them actually led to your big sale. Most writers and probably all perspective writers get sick of writing advice, especially in book form, though most of us feel compelled to read them because we think it’s part of the process of becoming a writer.

This isn’t to say the books these groups recommend to you are all completely useless. They do have some great advice, but the number one way to get your writing sold is to improve it and just keep writing. Any book that gets your writing juices going and inspires you to keep writing is a good one in my book. There are a few books I have found that actually helped me with these principles, and none of them are “how to” books.

The first book I ran across was given to me nearly 15 years ago by a good friend: Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. This book is still so popular that it is available on Kindle, Audio, Hardback and paperback. It’s popular for a reason (and it’s not because they use it as a textbook at UCLA Creative Writing Class). Goldberg’s book helps you find your Zen of Writing. It doesn’t teach you how to write. Instead, it encourages you to be comfortable with the way you already write–how to embrace and give permission for you to write uniquely. It is a good if you need your brain washed clean of all the ‘commandments’ of writing and free your muse from the red tape of ‘the right way to write.’

The second book and probably the one that stuck with me the longest (see the image of my original copy is much worse than dog eared and still has post it note markers) is: What If by Anne Bernays & Pamela Painter . This book influenced me so much that I find myself starting my brainstorming sessions with “What if?” This is a more instructive book, taking you from point A in fiction writing, to point Z. From creating characters to creating a believable plot. It is filled with exercises and examples. This is a great book for someone starting out in fiction, or someone starting to take their writing hobby seriously.

The next book is a lot along the same line: The Writers Idea Book by Jack Heffron. I first came across this book in my Creative Writing 101 class in college. After each bit of instruction on writing a prompt follows, sometimes several. They are great little prompts with plenty of effective advice and clear examples.

The last book I recommend is nothing BUT prompts: The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood. This was recommended to me by a friend who writes well, but remains convinced it is a ‘hobby.’ It is a great tool for busting the cobwebs out of your head, getting your muse into shape and getting into a regular habit of writing–which is what you need to do to be a writer.

What books have you run across that have helped you?

4 thoughts on “Book Recommendations (That Actually Help You Write)

  1. There is one book every writer should read, whether published author or rank amateur:

    On Writing by Stephen King.

    Best advice ever.

  2. Great suggestions. I have collected many writing books over the years and only read a few. Most of the stuff they discussed I learned in college. I learned how to write by writing – nearly 20 years of writing. The best training I received was writing for newspapers and magazines where I had to meet specified requirements and word counts, and as a book editor editing other people’s books. Learned a lot. These titles you recommend sound like they are worth reading. I will have to take a look at them. Thanks.

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