Writing Wednesday — 10 Essential Books on Writing

Books, Crooks, and Councelors

I’m continuing the 10th anniversary celebration of Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver Books), winner of the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction.

This week, a list of ten books that should be on every writer’s shelf – with a cracked spine and plenty of page markers!

The Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald Maass (2016) – We read in part for emotional experience, and Maass, one of my teachers, is a master at showing writers how to evoke emotion in the reader.

Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell (2004) – crammed with practical approaches

Writing A Woman’s Life, Carolyn Heilbrun (1988) (she wrote mysteries as Amanda Cross) – I discovered this book long before I started writing, when my interest was in women’s history, but it’s just as applicable to novelists

Scene & Structure, Jack Bickham (1993) – these days we want our “sequel” or reflection interwoven with the action, but Bickham’s breakdown of scene and its function is enormously useful

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them, Francine Prose (2007) – the name says it all

The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, Ted Kooser (2005) – a guide to working with the language, as important for novelists as for poets

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg (1986) – half inspiration, half therapy

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (I’ve got the 2012 edition but it’s since been updated)

How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America, Ed. by Lee Child with Laurie R. King (I’m a contributor!)

and of course, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure, Leslie Budewitz (2011)

Obviously I’ve left off basics like a dictionary and thesaurus. Grammar guides, whether you’re partial to The Elements of Style or Sin and Syntax, and Garner’s Modern American Usage, Bryan Garner (3d ed., 2009). In the inspiration category, I chose Goldberg because I discovered her early in my own writing journey, but you can’t go wrong with Ueland’s If You Want to Write, Brande’s Becoming a Writer, Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist, or Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Books on creativity and on medicine, psychology, and police procedure fill another shelf. (Hmm, I sense another list coming on!)

What essential writing books would you add?

8 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday — 10 Essential Books on Writing

  1. I have two dog-eared copies (one for each floor of my home) of Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark. The author teaches writing to journalists at the Poynter Institute, but his book has something for every kind of writer. The sections (1 through 50) are short, pithy and full of insights on how to write clear and lively prose. There are a lot of tips on how to manage your writing life, too.

    One of my favorites is #44: Save String, in which Clark suggests, “For big projects, save scraps others would toss… save string, gather piles of research, be attentive to when it’s time to write, write earlier than you think you can, let those early drafts drive you to additional research and organization.” Each section finishes off with a Workshop–ideas for activities that a writer can take on to further their abilities in that category.

    Thanks for all the great book suggestions, Leslie!

    • Thanks, LG! I don’t know that book, but I do remember reading Clark’s occasional articles in writing mags years ago. And yes, save string! My hunny likes to tell people ‘you never know how she’ll use what you say to her”!

  2. My two favorite writing books are Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury–this first one is very good therapy for a case of the sads. The Writer’s Survival Guide by Rachel Simon could use some updating for new tech, but has invaluable advice for revising and editing. Ok, I still like On Writing by Stephen King, but a lot of that is for the family stories about science experiments that take out the power for most of a small town.

    • Thanks, Jean. I remember reading Bradbury’s book years ago. Simon’s book is new to me. LOL about King’s book! I reread it a year or so ago, and it holds up well.

  3. Here are two of my favorites, especially for beginning writers:
    – How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method – Randy Ingermanson. Great for people who are neither pantsers nor outliners. This method got me started on my first novel.
    – Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print – Renni Browne and Dave King. Great for helping beginners avoid beginner mistakes and as a guide to revision for not-so-beginners.

    • Thanks, Janet. Self-Editing is terrific; I think a new edition is on the way. Snowflake I don’t know, but it sounds worth a look for those in need of a boost toward that first book!

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