Helpful Books for the Writing Process
Blogger: Michelle Ule
Janet’s traveling to various publishing houses this week; so I’m filling in for her while she’s in all-day meetings.
Last week I wrote about the genres you should read as a writer (all of them); this week I’ll talk about specific craft books that help me. I’m a novelist, but still some of these resources would be helpful to nonfiction writers as well.
The book I use more than any sits next to my computer screen: the Flip Dictionary.
It describes itself perfectly: “For when you know what you want to say but can’t come up with the word.” It’s an exhaustive version of a thesaurus, and you don’t have to know your exact word to use it. For example, I’m writing about a cavalryman, but I can’t remember the name of his type of horse. So I look up horse and the Flip Dictionary gives me a page full of suggestions.
If you’re writing nonfiction and find yourself using the same words over again and again; the flip dictionary serves as a thesaurus.
Early in my writing career, I explored books on craft, and apparently I live in a writing corner of the country because our library has a lot of them in the 808 section. I’ve read almost all of them now, and purchased several that speak to my own particular writing weaknesses.
As an unpublished writer, I learned a lot from Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages. He gave me insight into what an editor looks for and how to strengthen my manuscript. I’ve also used some of his ideas at work. Lukeman, who is an agent in New York, also wrote the fascinating The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life.
Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman includes a detailed discussion of what went into turning the original draft of Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth into a best-selling book. I hadn’t really thought about the components of a best-selling book before, and while it’s still a lightning strike most of the time, really big novels do have some things in common.
Like many, I’ve enjoyed Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird–particularly her injunction to just write it down, anything, particularly when you don’t feel like writing and aren’t sure you’ll ever be creative again.
Stephen King’s On Writing also is a favorite–probably because of the behind-the-scenes stories about his massive best-sellers. His wife, Tabitha, fished his first novel, Carrie, out of the trash and ordered him to submit. In gratitude when it sold big, he ran out and bought her the best gift he could find at the local drug store: a hairdryer.
For my recent birthday, my son gave me The Writer’s Devotional: 365 Inspirational Exercises, Ideas, Tips & Motivations on Writing by Ann Peters. I’ll let you know next year how it worked out!
What books do you use regularly in your writing life? Which ones have been most helpful and how? Where did you find them and what would you recommend to an aspiring writer?