Whether you’re starting out in creative writing or looking to fine-tune your writing craft, there are a wealth of reference books out there.
Here are five that I find invaluable:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne and Dave King
The first time I flicked through Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, I was unimpressed. A chapter on Show Don’t Tell? Pleeeeeease. Are you also going to tell me not to use adverbs?
Then I actually read the chapter on Show Don’t Tell and realised I’d never fully understood Show Don’t Tell before. Every chapter of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is like that.
Renni Browne and Dave King explain the fundamentals of writing in a way that’s clear, comprehensive and yet also concise.
Having a problem with POV? Check this book. Dialogue a bit dodgy? Check this book.
I refer to this book at least once a month. I also recommend it to fellow writers more than any other writing book.
The Story Grid – Shawn Coyne
While Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is about the nuts and bolts of writing, The Story Grid zooms you upwards 26,000ft. Shawn Coyne’s book is all about helicopter-view, big-picture storytelling.
It’s also the solution to the hardest question you’ll have as a writer, “Why don’t people find my fiction compelling?”
(Trust me, I’ve been there.)
Shawn Coyne details narrative arcs and genre beats, and gives writers a framework to begin editing (truly editing, not polishing) their novel.
I am not kidding when I say that The Story Grid method was the only way I was able to make it through the final rewrite of my debut thriller, Dead Ringer.
On Writing – Stephen King
Ever noticed how many creative writing books are by writers you’ve never heard of?
This is the reason I rate Stephen King’s On Writing. Love him or hate him, you can’t argue with his success.
Some of King’s advice I agree with, some I don’t (King is far more of a pantser than I will ever be), but there’s plenty to chew over.
Most cheering, perhaps, is the account of King’s journey to publication and success. It’s a reminder of how much of this life is perseverance.
Writing Down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg
Writing Down the Bones is the book I return to when I need a shot of inspiration. Creative writing books can be dry. “Do this. Don’t do this.”
Natalie Goldberg, by contrast, is your effervescent fairy godmother. With chapter titles like “Writing is not a McDonald’s Hamburger”, Writing Down the Bones is all about learning to love the creative process.
Goldberg’s philosophy is that writing is a type of meditation and sessions of “freewriting”, where you write and write and write without stopping, can unleash your creativity.
This isn’t the way I write, typically, but it’s a good way of battling writer’s block or forcing a start to a new project when you feel overwhelmed.
If Writing Down the Bones is airy-fairy, 2k to 10k is just-the-facts-ma’am. It’s also the craft book that best describes the way I write. If ever I find myself floundering, it’s usually because I’ve strayed from Rachel Aaron’s triangle.
Aaron’s story is pretty incredible: as a new mother with limited time to write and deadlines looming, she had to figure out a way to write a lot, fast. I doubt I will ever be cracking 10,000 words a day like Aaron, but by using her strategies, I easily started boosting my daily word count by 500 words or more.
What are those strategies? Write during your most creative hours; plan your stories with a detailed outline; figure out what you’re going to write ahead of time (daydreaming is better done when queueing at the bank, not at your desk; plot holes are better untangled in note form, not when you’re halfway through a scene); and pack your novel full of things you can’t wait to write.
Which writing craft books do you come back to time and again? Let me know your recommendations in the comments.
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