For anyone who wants to become a great writer, becoming a great reader usually comes first. And if you’re going to be reading, why not read about writing?
Here are four books on writing that I think you’ll really dig.
#1: On Writing by Stephen King
Four books on writing? See what I did there? Anyway…
My girlfriend makes fun of me for talking about this book so much, but it really is brilliant. King discusses so much with relatively little space: his beginnings as a writer, his process, some of his greatest successes, some of his biggest mistakes. He even delves into personal territory, discussing the accident that nearly took his life and made him consider retiring from writing.
One of my favorite parts of this book is the honesty with which King approaches the subject. His recurring message is that not all writers are brilliant, innately gifted people. Many writers, like King himself, just work harder than everyone else. They love writing, they do it every day, and that’s what makes them special.
For writers, I think this is a great message. Essentially, King argues that hard work (with a sprinkling of luck) is going to beat raw talent, more often that not.
#2: Walking on Water by Derek Jensen
Derek Jensen is an interesting guy, and he has a lot to say about writing. Framed by his tenure as a college professor, this is a book not just about the technical aspects of writing—it’s about the purpose of writing, and what good writing should do.
However, this book is not just about writing. It’s about our education system, it’s about identity, it’s about independent thought. Walking on Water has a lot of depth to it, and for writers, I think it’s especially appealing. Unlike On Writing, it doesn’t necessarily offer specific ideas about the process. Rather, this book invites the reader to think critically about what one puts down on the page.
P.S. My favorite part is Jensen’s number one rule of writing, which is “Don’t bore the reader.” Seems like good advice.
#3: Creative Writer’s Handbook by Philip K. Jason and Allan B. Lefcowitz
Full disclosure: this book was assigned reading in college. Neither of these guys were my professors or anything, though, and this book has a lot to offer. Though maybe not as eminently readable as our previous two books, the Creative Writer’s Handbook is still a must-have.
The best part about this book is the detail. The authors go in-depth on a number of the more technical aspects of writing, including point of view, word choice, narrative, drama, mood, and dialogue. And it’s not just for fiction writers, either—there’s a section on poetry, another on creative non-fiction, and even a brief chapter on play writing.
As far as educational books for writers go, this is one of the best I’ve read.
#4: Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass
Full disclosure, again: I haven’t actually finished this one. But hey, even if the book ended where I am, I’d still recommend it.
Donald Maass is a literary agent in New York, so you know he knows his stuff. His insights into modern fiction are outstanding. In particular, I love the way he outlines the debate between literary fiction and genre fiction.
Essentially, Maass argues that the line between the two has been blurred, and that they both borrow characteristics from the other. Literary fiction sells the way genre fiction is supposed to, and genre fiction now emphasizes prose the way literary fiction does. And that’s just one of his many excellent points.
If you’re looking for insights into the modern publishing industry, this is a great place to start.
Read these books! And feel free to let me know if you have any favorites of your own. After all, one can never have enough books on writing.