Books on writing are hugely helpful. Aside from reading all the time (novels, screenplays, memoirs, just read, people!), writers should be reading books about writing.
But, these books can be dangerous, if not used properly. My biggest fear when a new writer asks for a book recommendation is the often formulaic or step-by-step approach of teaching the craft.
These books attempt to break down the craft simply, so that it can be taught. Inadvertently, a new writer will feel that if they don’t write in the exact way that the book suggests then they are somehow failing and will never have a good story.
This is a self-destructive myth. The creative process of storytelling is very personal. It’s like learning how you learn. Each person is different and there is an amount of trial and error to discover what works for you.
So, before I give you the list of books that I recommend, I urge you not to take them word-for word. Instead, read them so that you can pick out the tools that they offer and see if they work for you. Then again, don’t make excuses not to write, just make sure the tips, tricks and “rules” work for you and not against you. And if they don’t work at all, then don’t use ‘em. It’s that simple.
ON WRITING: A Memoir on the Craft | Stephen King
Probably my favorite book on writing, Stephen King is never above anyone, instead, he gives it to you straight. It begins with a memoir of his life where he asks the question, why the heck did I, of all people, become a writer? Then, he delves into the tools of writing and the must-do, can-do attitude that you’ll need to survive. Every writer or aspiring writer should read this at least twice. Once, before you’ve had a ton of practice, and again, after you’ve finished a few projects.
THE ARTISTS WAY: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity | Julia Cameron
Writing, or any art form for that matter, is not only about the tangible tools of the craft, it’s also about the artist themselves. This book can be read at any point, whether you’re a new writer or someone who has been writing for decades, Cameron pushes you to understand, reflect and simply be with your inner Artist.
HELP! FOR WRITERS | Roy Peter Clark
This guy is just down to Earth. I haven’t read this cover-to-cover, but that’s the beauty of it, you don’t have to. The table of contents is split into sections, the first being “Step one. Getting Started” with subsections like “I can’t think of anything to write” and “I have trouble doing all the research.” Other sections include stumbling your way through the middle and finally, working out the rewrite. The last section is my favorite “Keeping the faith,” because yeah, it’s just that hard.
DIRECTING ACTORS | Judith Weston
Seems like a weird one, right? It’s not specifically on writing, but it is an essential read when it comes to understanding character. Every screenwriter should read this, but also, anyone who is writing fiction can benefit from the way Weston thinks about character and how she helps us bring them to life.
SCREENPLAY: The Foundations of Screenwriting | Syd Field
Well. Syd Field is the father of screenwriting. He just is. And this book is good for everyone. For new screenwriters, I don’t suggest reading this at the beginning; because there is a danger that you will try to fit into something you are not. For seasoned screenwriters, read this twice. For novelists, you need more imagery in your work. Read this three times.
In all cases, just write. Because if you have that voice in your head that’s telling you to write something, for the love of storytelling, just get it down on paper.
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