This post contains a collection of how-to-write books for writers to explore.
‘There are a lot of how-to-write books available for the author-in-practice. I own a few.’ This was how I began my last post. It sent me on a journey through my bookcase to remind myself of why I like these books so much, what they taught me and which ones I return to most often.
They include a mix of writing advice books, the best book about grammar I’ve ever seen, a writer’s resource book, and books that dig deep into how and why you should write.
I saw a meme on Facebook recently that said when writers die, they become books. I love that and it encapsulates for me why I want my writing to constantly be improving.
How-To-Write Books That Have Impacted My Writing
The very first HTW (how to write) book I ever bought was…
Your Creative Writing Masterclass by Jurgen Wolff.
Subtitle: Advice from the best on writing successful novels, screenplays and short stories.
Writer, teacher, author of ten books, a dozen plays, as well as a scriptwriter for TV, Jurgen Wolff incorporates excerpts from famous writers, both literary greats and modern authors, advice, and actions to take.
What I love about it
There’s so much I love about this book, starting with its layout. The neat design pleases my designer’s heart. There are small author bios on some pages along with illustrated portraits of the author. It’s the one book in which I have underlined, in pencil, more lines and passages than any other. Wolff shares the thoughts on writing and advice from a number of different authors, like EL Doctorow, who said, ‘Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.’
It’s less of a how-to and more of a this-is-how-they-did-it and a think-about-this kind of book. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to be a better writer.
Wired For Story by Lisa Cron
Subtitle: The Writer’s Guide To Using Brain Science To Hook Readers From The Very First Sentence
Despite the fact that Lisa Cron had worked in publishing, as a literary agent, a TV producer and a story consultant for Warner Brothers, I resisted reading this book for a long time. The title made me feel as though one had to manipulate readers rather than captivate them by writing well. But then there was this, ‘…there’s nothing more exhilarating than watching your work improve until your readers are so engrossed in it that they forget that it’s a story at all.’ And I was hooked.
What I Love About It
Throughout the book, Cron separates myths from the reality of writing. Each section begins with a cognitive secret and a story secret. For example, Chapter 3 – I’ll Feel What He’s Feeling begins with a quote from Daniel Gilbert, ‘Indeed, feelings don’t just matter – they are what mattering means.’ The cognitive secret is that emotion determines the meaning of everything – if we’re not feeling, we’re not conscious. The story secret pulled out from that is, ‘All story is emotion based – if we’re not reading, we’re not reading’.
Each chapter ends with a checkpoint. And rather than a list of things you need to check off, Cron gives us questions that force the reader to evaluate the story they are writing in greater depth.
The better one’s grammar, the better readers are able to forget it’s a story and be drawn into the fictional reality one has conjured. The best book on grammar I’ve ever seen is…
Grammar Rules by Craig Shrives
Subtitle: Writing With Military Precision
Perhaps it was the fact that Shrives was an officer in British Intelligence with an over twenty-five-year military career during which ‘his writing had been whipped into shape by a raft of British and American generals’ that made the book appeal to me. Perhaps it was this line in the back cover blurb, ‘More importantly. Do you know why this stuff matters?’ I loved that!
Perhaps there are other versions of the copy of The Elements Of Style by Strunk and White than the one I read. I hope so because the layout was appalling. As a designer, I cringed every time I looked at it. Not a promising start. It also wasn’t as clear as it could have been. Disagree to your heart’s content, but then take a look at the layout and clarity of Craig Shrives’ Grammar Rules.
What I Love About It
It’s clearly laid out with examples of what’s wrong and what’s right. Bearing in mind all of his writing was in, and for the military, his writing is clear, concise, and to the point.
The book has neat graphics to highlight especially important notes such as Great Tips, Beware, Geek Says, and Opportunity. It is so easy to dip into this book and gain clarity on any grammar issue, I wouldn’t use any other.
The most ‘HTW step-by-step’ book I have is…
The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass
Subtitle: Craft And Strategies For Career Fiction Writers
Donald Maass is a veteran literary agent and owner of the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York. He has written a number of books for fiction writers. The Breakout Novelist is a ring-bound book that has been designed to live on your desk more as a workbook than something with which you curl up on the couch. One reason, and there are many, that I took the book off the bookshop’s shelf and to the till and parted with hard-earned cash was this line that I spotted as I perused the book, ‘Storytellers are different. Storytellers look not to publishers to make themselves successful, but to themselves. They wonder how to top themselves with each new novel. Their grumbles are not about getting book tours, but about getting more time to deliver. Storytellers take calculated risks with their fiction. Mostly, they try to make their stories bigger…Storytellers are orientated the right way; consequently, their stories almost never go wrong.’
What I Love About It
The book is divided into three parts:
- Mastering Breakout Basics
- Achieving Breakout Greatness
- Building A Breakout Career
Filled with excellent advice and examples from a variety of authors, these are excellent value on their own. They are filled with practical advice and information, such as, ‘Breakout level and out-of-category novels (genre stories that transcend genre) often use three points of view. The main protagonist will be featured in 40 or 50 percent of the novel’s scenes, the remaining two will have 20 or 25 percent of the novel’s scenes.’
Each section ends with Practical Tools. Here are the step-by-step exercises with follow-up work and a conclusion an author can use to help bring his or her work into that breakout-level Maass speaks about. While most of the exercises are for contemporary novels, they can also be used for historical or speculative fiction as well. It’s a good workbook to return to after you’ve finished the first draft of your novel.
When I bought the next book, I was deep in the middle of writing an historical book in which there would be a fair amount of violence. I needed a resource about weapons that I could turn to easily. Almost without thinking, I bought…
The Writers Guide To Weapons by Benjamin Sobieck
Subtitle: A Practical Reference For Using Firearms And Knives In Fiction
This is a great resource for writers of contemporary fiction. Not much use if you’re writing about trebuchets and longbows.
What I love About It
The biggest piece of advice the book gave was, ‘Just use knife, pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, and the like. Remember to keep the use of those items equally generic and consistent, or it will become obvious that you don’t know the weapon.’ You know where that excellent piece of advice is? The introduction. But I have to admit the money was worth it as that has stayed with me and kept me from rabbit-holing away hours of my life.
The Golden Tips For Writing About Weapons, also in the introduction, has some gems such as:
- Don’t Overthink firearms and knives
- If it’s in a movie or on television, it’s probably inaccurate
- Someone will say you’re wrong, even if you’re right
Throughout the book, Sobieck goes into a lot of detail about each weapon featured. But for me, the most helpful parts were the sections that described the Advantages, Disadvantages, Inaccurate Examples, Accurate Examples, and What Went Wrong where he points out where authors and scriptwriters failed.
The Last Word
What books have you read that helped you in your author journey? Pop in a comment and let us know. And, if you have always wanted to learn how to write a book, then sign up for a course with Writers Write It’s the perfect place to learn and take the journey to being an author.
by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series and The Device Hunter. Elaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.
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