There has been much talk within the group and in some writing blogs lately about helpful writing books. There are thousands of them out there, so what is a wannabe writer to do other than wade through them spending lots of cash? Why, ask other writers for their opinions, of course.
Here's my list of four must haves:
1) "On Writing" by Stephen King - Beyond being rather inspiring, the book is full of advice on "how to be a writer." Mr. King is pretty blunt in this book about what it takes to be successful. His advice is sensible, his examples of his own failures are encouraging, his examples of his successes are inspiring. He explains that writers have to read and write. You need to read in the genre you want to write in constantly. You need to sit down every day and put words on a page. He discusses his personal writing schedule and setup and talks about how different it is now than when he started out with a typewriter in a corner of the laundry room. He talks about his collection of rejection letters and how he almost threw one of his biggest novels away. And, he talks about how valuable his wife is to his writing career. Every wannabe writer should read this book and think about whether or not they can do what it takes to succeed.
2) "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers" by Christopher Vogler - I almost left this book off the list. It's valuable, but damn it's long. This book spells out the steps in the heroes journey. Every story, no matter what length, is about the journey the main character embarks on. The journey may be physical, emotional, mental or a combination. Most people write these journeys without understanding what they are doing. This book explains it, gives examples from modern and classic movies, and breaks everything down into easy to find/easy to understand sections. It's a long read, but it's one of those "aha!" books where you read along and recognize the elements the author is talking about. Definitely worth the time.
3) "Writing the Breakout Novel" and the associated workbook by Donald Maas - I warn you now, keep a notebook by your side as you read the main book. Every page has something on it that you will want to include in your novel. I suggest reading the main book before or as you are writing your novel and then break out the workbook before you begin revising. This is probably the book that I consider most valuable to me as a writer. It goes beyond things like, "make sure you include all four senses in your scenes," or, "don't let the middle of the book fall flat." This book shows you how to do that by using examples from real books and stuff he makes up on the fly. He takes you through every element required in a story and shows you how to pump them up. It will take a plain story and turn it into a phenomenal one.
4) "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White - Okay, this one could compete for most valuable book. It's small, easy to navigate, easy to understand, and include just about any grammar or punctuation issue you will come across in general writing. Yes, "The Chicago Manual of Style" contains more, but chances are you won't need most of it. This simple, inexpensive, little book will save you much embarrassment.
My writing library contain probably twenty books or so, but these are the four that are most worn. I constantly go back to them. You know that scene in "The Time Machine" where the main character jumps out of his machine, runs into his library and grabs a couple of books before jumping back on his machine? If I could only grab four writing books, these would be the four I would grab.Linda Lindsey