If you’re a writer who isn’t quite ready to jump into the wide world of publishing and networking, then maybe the best place for you to start as a writer is to read craft books. (In the context of writing, a craft book, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a book about the writing craft – not a book about arts and crafts.) There’s a whole slew of craft books out there, some by some really well-known greats. This is a list of my favorite craft books that have been a real help to me as I’ve been starting out as a writer.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
Even if you’re not big into the horror/thriller genre (I’m totally not), or even if you’ve never read anything by Stephen King, On Writing is a must for any writer. The book is written in four parts. The first, titled “C.V.,” is essentially a short autobiography full of inspiration and words of wisdom, I think. The second part, titled “Toolbox,” is where King discusses the tools required for the writing craft. He talks about vocabulary, grammar, style, and the paragraph, among other things. The third part, called “On Writing,” is about just that – the writing craft. How to get better as a writer. He touches on classic advice like reading a lot and writing a lot, as well as pitfalls writers should avoid, the structure of the novel, description, and a lot of other stuff, all of which should be eaten up like candy for a writer. The fourth part is called “On Living,” where King talks about the car accident that very nearly took his life and how he essentially had to start over as a writer in many ways. This is my number one most recommended craft book that every single writer needs to read. It can be found on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and most likely your local library.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print, by Renni Brown and Dave King
Especially if you’re writing fiction, Self-Editing should be on your bookshelf. (Currently, it’s not on mine because I gave it away, and I miss it every day.) The book is about how to polish your writing so that it comes across professionally. It’s divided up into chapters that cover various topics like showing versus telling, point of view, beats, voice, and so on. Each chapter has a checklist of questions for a writer to apply to her writing, and exercises for practice. You can get it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and I’m sure plenty of other places.
Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style
If you are at all intimidated by grammar and mechanics, this book will ease your mind. I probably shouldn’t classify it as a craft book because it’s closer to a style guide, but regardless, the short, quick rules like “Be clear” or “Keep related words together” can help any writer to understand good style. A lot of writers throw their hands up when grammar comes up into the conversation, but they really don’t need to. The Elements of Style clears up a lot of the most basic concepts that people struggle with. It discusses usage, commonly misused words, form, and it actually also comes recommended by Stephen King in On Writing. The best part of this little style guide might be its length – my copy is only 105 pages. It’s short and succinct. Get it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose
I must confess at the outset that, as of this writing, I have not yet finished Reading Like a Writer. (If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, it has the books I’m reading on Goodreads, and if this book is still listed there, then I’m still reading it.) But I’m recommending it anyway because I’m barely on the third chapter, and I already feel that it has completely refreshed my view on reading and how it can help me improve my own writing. A piece of advice that writers frequently get is to read a lot. Francine Prose offers insights for how to get the most out of your reading. Find it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
Stay tuned for more great books on the craft, and if you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments below!
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