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Books on the craft come in all shapes and sizes—from enormous writing kits, to pocket-sized writing prompts and tips. Some cover a huge gamut of writing topics, while others focus on a specific aspect of writing like dialogue or plotting. What kind of writing book you choose will depend on your current goals or obstacles that you're trying to overcome, but the point is that you read them and, even more so, you actually do what they say.
What I mean is most writing books (and IMO, the best of them) include various exercises and prompts so that you can practice the new techniques and tips introduced throughout the book (a great example of this is The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass, as I mention later), and if you don't do any of them, then you've basically wasted your money buying the book to begin with.
Because the point of reading writing books isn't so that they look pretty on your bookshelf (although if they do, I suppose that's a bonus)—it's to improve your writing. It's to learn new techniques and tips that will ultimately lead to tighter, better-written manuscripts. But reading writing books without applying what you've learned is like taking a class and completely ignoring everything that's said—in which case you would have been better off staying home.
But if you read books on the craft carefully and actually do the exercises and apply the techniques to your work and—dare I say it—re-read them and highlight especially relevant information, I think you'll find that you'll get a lot out of the experience, and, better yet, your writing will start to improve.
Now that's not to say that by reading writing books you're guaranteeing publication or a best-selling indie title—regardless of what anyone tells you, there's never a guarantee like that in this field (or any field, for that matter). But if you want to improve your odds and you want to become a better writer, I can't recommend writing books enough.
Now this post would be pretty useless if I didn't give any examples of great books on the craft, so here are my top five favorites, in no particular order. I've also included the subtitles as they effectively summed up the purpose of their respective books:
- The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass— "Passion,
purpose and techniques to make your novel great."
I actually wrote a review that explains in better detail why I enjoyed this one so much, but in short, it covers a large variety of writing topics and the exercises are fantastic.
- Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell—"Techniques
and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to
This is one of the many writing books from the Write Great Fiction series and it's one that's pretty well known for its great techniques and insight on plotting. Great for plotters and pantsers alike.
- Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell—"Techniques
for transforming your first draft into a finished novel."
This is also part of the Write Great Fiction series, and it's one that I found so incredibly helpful that I re-read it with a highlighter. Not only does it have fantastic advice and tips on how to revise your manuscript, but it has great quotes throughout the book with little extra nuggets of wisdom.
- Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress—"Techniques
and exercises for crafting dynamic characters and effective viewpoints."
This is another from the Write Great Fiction series that I found so helpful that I re-read it with a highlighter in hand. The sub-title describes it pretty well, but this book is chock full of character development gold.
- Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb—"A published author and top agent share the keys to achieving
You don't have to be writing your first novel to benefit from reading this one. Although it's a little outdated as it was written before the indie explosion, it still has great advice on getting your book written, and fantastic insight behind the traditional publishing curtain and what exactly an agent does.
So those are my top five favorite writing books. Now it's your turn: do you read books on the craft? If so, which are your favorite? If not, why not?