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Bookshelves with assorted books.

From the earliest days of writing, aspiring authors have garnered shelves of books about writing in all its aspects. A few select titles become inspiring favourites. (Image: Wikimedia)

I would like to recommend a few how-to-write titles. Every author collects a small shelf of these books as they learn their craft. You may have a few (or a lot) already. If you do, then you probably have your own favourites. Perhaps I can add a title or two to your list. If you are just beginning, the books here will ensure you get off to a good start.

I am new to being an indie, but I have been writing for over twenty years – mostly as a keep-me-sane hobby in a chaotic world. Yet, I still like to revisit the odd how-to-write manual now and then. Doing this helps eject any bad habits that may have crept in (and they do keep creeping in!). Some of the recommended books go back a ways, but sound writing principles have not changed over the years. The classic books about writing are the ones found useful by large numbers of writers. Many of today’s most successful writers (of any kind) got started with these very books.

Before I get to the books, let me make one thing clear. Writers break down into two – quite different – groups: those who plan and outline, and those who write “off the cuff.” The planners and outliners like to get everything straight before they write up the book. This usually makes for better structure, fewer plot gaffes, and superior characterization. Usually. The impromptu types just choose a story idea, make a few sketchy notes, sit down, and start right in. They do not want to know where the story is going before they begin. They want to discover it as they go along. This technique can sometimes give a book more energy and lead to stretches of “inspired” writing. Sometimes.

I am not the first to say this, but it bears repeating: there is no right way or wrong way to write a book. You just have to jump in and find out what works best for you.

Here are my recommended how-to-write books. I say recommended rather than favourite because I am a planner / outliner and prefer books slanted that way. If you are just starting, you do not need to read all these books before you begin writing. Read one or two of the general guides and take a flying leap. (I am not being rude!) I have put the more general books at the top of the list.

The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing / Writer’s Digest Books

This one is an excellent general introduction to novel writing.

The Writer’s Digest Guide to Good Writing / Writer’s Digest Books

More great advice from the folks at Writer’s Digest, but without the specific focus on the novel.

The Art and Craft of Novel Writing / Oakley Hall

Hall’s gem is another solid general introduction to the craft of novel writing.

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes / Jack M. Bickham

Especially written for those who work with young adult or genre fiction, this one packs tons of practical wisdom into a condensed easy-to-read format. I found the book extremely useful. Read it until you can chant the contents like a mantra.

If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence, and Spirit / Brenda Ueland

Ueland’s book is a true classic and wonderfully inspiring. It is available again as an eBook.

How to Write: Advice and Reflections / Richard Rhodes

Rhodes loves collecting notes, and then combining them to create the bones of a book. I use this technique myself. It is amazing how the mind can put together a book, fragment by fragment, with one note naturally leading to another. My advice is not to categorize your notes. Instead, put them all in one file in the position (best guess) where they will fit into the outline. From time to time, as the file grows, go in to reshuffle and reorganize. Your outline will grow before your very eyes. This title is available as an eBook.

Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity / Susan K. Perry

Absolutely packed with interesting examples of writers who go with the flow, the book does a good job of showing just how absorbing writing can be.

Roughdrafts: The Process of Writing / Alice Heim Calderonello and Bruce L. Edwards

Writing successive draft versions of a book – working your way towards a better book with every pass – is the best way to achieve quality results. How serious are you about this writing thing?

Make That Scene: Setting, Mood, and Atmosphere / William Noble

Noble’s classic is an example of the specialized book that focusses on just one basic aspect of writing. There are many of these. Add them to your shelf if you feel the need to strengthen a particular aspect of your work. You can get this one as an eBook.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy / Orson Scott Card

Card’s award winner is a “must have” for sf and fantasy writers and filled with well-targeted advice from a famous writer.

Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction / Damon Knight

The focus here is on producing shorter science fiction works. Knight was an acknowledged master of the genre.

For the More Serious Writer

If you aspire to literary heights with your work, try my all-time favourite: John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist. Superbly well written, the book is a pleasure to read and easily the best general writing advice I have found anywhere. There is a digital edition.

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