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21st March 2022

Five Books Every Writer Should Read

What is your advice to aspiring writers?’

Me: Read these books.

Advice is a tricky thing because it really only reflects the challenges and experiences of the person giving the advice. My experience may not be your experience and so the lessons I have learned might not match the challenges you are facing. Five bullet points just may not be the most helpful thing. But I do think there are areas that it’s helpful to know about. So, my advice is a list of books by other people! These books are all really great and I have got a lot from all of them. The idea is that if the bullet point tip is not going to cut it then the breadth of information and ideas in a whole book will. Good books on the writing craft can hot wire years of trial and error and set up good habits and outlook for life. 

The only thing I would add is that just reading books about writing is not that helpful. The book will give you knowledge, but without trying out what they advise they are not going to do much. Apply everything, test, and make it your own. Read, then apply, adapt – you need to do all three. 

Ok, on to the list.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Brilliant, just brilliant. The basic idea is that between us and making what we want to make is Resistance, and our job is to fight Resistance. You know that feeling that you get that what you are writing is not good enough yet so you need to do something else? Yeah, that’s resistance and he talks about it in here, along with all of Resistance’s other devious tricks. Know the enemy, fight the enemy.  Seriously, it’s life changing. 

Save the Cat by Blake Synder

How do you put a story together? This book has the answers. It takes you through what is a log line, why you have to have things get worse for your characters after the story hits its mid point, and hammers home the importance of knowing who and what your story is about. You can disagree with it (many have),  but the structure and methods in here work, they really do. You will make better stories if you follow what it says.

How do you put a story together? This book has the answers.

Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels by Peter David

There is a lot to this book, but it one of the best bits is the advice about getting published and then staying published. It’s one of the best types of books on writing, one that is peppered with advice and lessons won by experience, and as much about writing as life as craft. One of my favourite pieces in here is about the qualities you need to get published and then those you need to keep being published. 

The Writer’s Little Helper by James V, Smith. Jr.

A book of tips and advice on all aspects of writing. It read it early on as a writer and still go back to it. I find it is best used like the user manual for a machine; when you have a problem you go and see what Writer’s Little Helper says about it. 

Top Takeaway: how to use readability statistics in word processing programs. I am sure it will stick in the craw of many, but I find it very useful, and meshes well with the Elements of Style, as simple declarative sentences tend to score higher. 

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

So far, the books in this list are about the bigger principles of creativity, and the structure and substance of story. Elements of style is about the words you put on the page. It’s about sentence construction, emphasis, words and all that good stuff. Words and there use are the atoms of writing, down to the comma and suffix. There are rules, or maybe string guidelines, about how to best use them. Best to know the rules before you break them, and Elements of style is the most direct (and short!) reference for those rules. Active voice, concrete description: it’s all here, laid out clearly, concisely, and with very few adverbs. 

That’s it. Read these five. Apply what they say, and they will make you a better writer.

Thanks,

J.

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