Every writer I’ve ever met has an extensive personal library of books they absolutely love, that have sentimental value, are in the to-read queue (to be honest, that probably makes up a hefty percentage of the library), and reference books.
Oh, so many reference books.
I had to get rid of many of mine in my recent move, but there are five I just could not part with because they have given, and continue to give, me great lessons, advice, and instruction on the craft of writing every time I open them up. I want to share them with you today.
Oh, man, how many times am I allowed to use the word awesome to describe this book? I picked this up on a whim at a Barnes & Noble half price table years ago, mainly for the title. Once I got it home and cracked it open this book blew my mind. This book breaks bad guys and girls down by type and severity of badness, unfolding delicious psychological pathology with the examples of well known bad guys in prose and film. The language Morrell uses to convey all this information is engaging and anything but dull. Children’s authors can also make good use of this book, as it has a section specifically for you, so it covers quite a wide spectrum without ever losing grasp of its main subject. I will go to my grave clutching this book. It’s taught me how to take a generic bad guy and make them a layered, multifaceted, fully realized person instead of a cardboard cut out with information on creating anti-heroes all the way to sociopaths and everything between. Awesome, awesome, awesome!
Most likely everyone has heard of this book at one time or another since becoming a writer, and it’s one that I go back to read every year. On Writing gives me a wonderful look at King’s evolution as a writer from the time he was a child, through poverty and addiction, and all the way through the van accident that challenged him physically and mentally for months while he healed. Within his life story he also presents a number of invaluable lessons about writing and how it influences and is enhanced by the things we deal with in our lives every day. It’s quite an inspiration to read, and I’ll be needing a new copy in a couple years’ time with how the binding is wearing out on mine.
Composed of essays by the writer, Bird by Bird has layers of information and insight about the craft of writing. I learn something new every time I open it up. I’d heard of Anne Lamott here and there, never having read anything of hers, but she was always quoted by writers and writing teachers. I finally bought the book after taking a Gotham Writing Class in which the teacher used Lamott’s essays to draw comparisons and give the students insights during the lessons. Lamott writes in a beautifully personal way, using the highs and lows of her everyday life to bring valuable lessons about a range of writing subjects, from creating characters and writing dialogue to using the most mundane of everyday moments to further ones understanding of the craft. For such a tiny book it packs a reverberating punch that unlocks a new understanding of writing for me.
I am still making my way through this book, but speaking from the experience of devouring Chuck’s other writing books and his hilariously profane blog, this is another book that will be clutched tight to my corpsey bosom hopefully many, many years from now. Chuck has a way with words that cuts down to the bone of whatever he talks about and gives a frank dose of advice, reality check, and encouragement for writers. He’s honest in the pictures he paints of writing, publishing, and the kind of work one has to do to achieve the writing dream. Chuck never sells you the tantalizing easy way, but he’ll show you the best way to tackle the hard stuff, and he’ll make you laugh so hard you snort milk out your nose while doing it. This book contains a great first section on the fundamental basics of being a writer, advice for new writers, defeating writer’s block, and prepping your novel before you begin writing. It then goes on to offer an extensive mid section about the nitty gritty bits of the craft and includes some of Chuck’s awesome 25 Thing lists. The book ends with an information packed section about the ins and outs and ups and downs of publishing, as well as tips on how to earn your audience.
Another recent edition to the library, this book has opened my mind to a whole other level of using language to immerse a reader within the emotions of a character. Let’s face it, using nothing but words on a page to paint a picture we see in our heads is damn hard, especially when it comes to expressing a character’s feelings. I’m guilty enough of getting stuck in an emotion ditch reusing the same phrases to describe someone’s state of mind, so this book was a timely discovery for me. It has 162 pages divided over emotions from Adoration all the way to Worry, and includes a handy users guide and further recommended reading.
These are just a few of the many great writing books out there, but they are the ones that have helped me the most over the years. If you have any more suggestions leave them in the comments. I’ll definitely check them out!