I started my creative writing journey in anger during the first Covid lockdown of 2020. I have always wanted to write a novel, but it was one of those projects that I put off as I was so busy with other aspects of my life: family, career, etc. During the lockdown, I put effort into creative writing to help deal with the pressures of lockdown and home-schooling, and I started off by reading lots of craft books and writing short stories.
I love reading craft books. I always have at least one novel and one craft book being read at anyone time. In this post, I want to talk about my top 6 favourite book that have really helped me. There are, of course, many other books that I think are brilliant, but if I had to recommend a reading list to a new writer, then I would offer the following books:
Let’s start with one of my favourite writing books of all time.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King
No list of writing craft books is complete without a mention of Stephen King’s On Writing. I really enjoyed this book as it is part biography from a master of commercial fiction mixed in with lots of writing advice. I have read this book several times, and I always feel motivated to write afterwards. I also really recommend the audiobook as King narrated it himself, and I could listen to his voice for hours.
One message to take from this book is that you should never give up. King, like many writers who wish to follow the traditional publishing route, faced rejection after rejection. King also nearly gave up. He threw the manuscript for Carrie into the trash. If his wife hadn’t had recovered the book and convinced him to send it out to a publisher, then we may never have had the classics, such as The Shining, IT, and Pet Cemetery.
The Art of Character – David Corbett
No matter what type of story you are writing, all good books come down to characters, and that is what The Art of Character explores. If you have thin, uninspiring characters, then it doesn’t matter how wiz bang your plot is, the book will not be a great read. That is the focus of this book. It’s all about writing well-rounded characters.
This book is very in depth, and the author throws a lot at you. It’s not the sort of book you just read once and then move on. I class this book as an essential workbook that you will refer to many times over your career.
The First Five Pages – Noah Lukeman
In a market that is saturated with new books each day, the first few pages of your manuscript are essential to hooking a reader. If you are looking for a traditional publishing deal, then you also have to hook an agent, and then a publishing editor, before you even get to your readers. The premise of this book, The First Five Pages, is about making sure your first five pages really engage the reader so that they continue with the book instead of abandoning it and moving onto something else.
I found the advice in this book to be excellent. The book covers subjects like: A weak opening hook, Overuse of adjectives and adverbs, Flat or forced metaphors or similes, Undeveloped characterisations and lifeless settings, and Uneven pacing and lack of progression.
It’s not a long book, but you get a lot of useful and actionable information to help the beginning of your book grab the attention of the reader.
The Anatomy of Story – John Truby
The Anatomy of Story is a book that explores story telling and story telling tropes. John Truby primarily aimed the book at screenwriting and he dissects a lot of movies, but that is a good thing as movies have to have stories that engage the viewer from the start. The book offers twenty-two steps to becoming a master storyteller, and I believe the book lives up to that promise.
Some films explored, and his examples, felt a little dated by today’s standards, as the book is quite old. I still found it very useful, and I recommend and storyteller to read it, even if he aimed it more at screenplay writers. There is plenty to absorb here for novelists.
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird is different kind of writing book. It isn’t a direct craft or technique book. Instead. I class this as a book about the writer’s life and I found it a fun, engaging and motivating read. Writing a novel is hard work and sometimes you just want to read something that will motivate and inspire you. I found Anne’s discussions about writing to be honest, entertaining and I quite appreciate her self-deprecating style.
The book is split into five sections: writing, the writing frame of mind, help along the way, publication and other reasons to write, and finally a section called the last class. If you want some inspiration and advice from a seasoned writer, both the good parts of writing and the not so good, then I recommend this book.
On Editing – Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price
It may seem odd including a book on editing in a list of writing craft books, but On Editing, is very good. As the title suggest, the book is about how to edit your own work to make it the best it can be before you show the manuscript to anyone else, either a professional editor, agent, or self-publication.
This book teaches you all the skills you need to help whip your first draft into shape and looks at fixing story issues as a developmental edit, and the finer-grained line editing problems you need to fix. At the time of writing this post, I have completed my first draft of my middle-grade novel, so editing is something I am thinking a lot about. I have read several books on the topic, and this is by far my favourite.