I’ve been a student most of my life. To get three college degrees before the age of 30, one almost has to be. I’ve been criticized as someone who reads too much and doesn’t practice enough, but I’m not sure that’s even possible. An analogy from one of my writing books sums it up like so: if you’re playing tennis, you practice for hours on end, focusing on technique, so that when you’re playing the game, those techniques become instinct and you don’t have to focus anymore.
If you tend to agree with that line of reasoning, then let me recommend some of my favorite writing books to you.
The first book I’d recommend any writer to read is IF YOU WANT TO WRITE by Brenda Ueland. This is the kind of book I’d recommend writers re-read every couple of years, because it’s just such a well-written, well-grounded book. Unless you made a point to find out before you read, you’d never know when the book was written (hint: it’s been around a while). The style and voice are very contemporary and the advice is timeless.
The next book I’d recommend, along the same lines, is Stephen Pressfield’s THE WAR OF ART. Much like Ueland’s tome, Pressfield seeks to equip readers for the mental battle ahead, to overcome resistance and persevere through the travail of creating a work of art.
The first book on this list to actually delve into storytelling fundamentals is STORY by Robert McKee. Recommended highly by the Act One Program, STORY takes the reader on a journey through the fundamentals of storytelling. Although told from the viewpoint of a screenwriter, these fundamental elements are no different for novelists. Beats, scenes, acts, story arcs–McKay does a masterful job breaking down the elements of story into their elemental parts.
This next book is also a screenwriting book, but like STORY, the late Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT is equally beneficial to novelists. Inside, Snyder breaks down the proper sequencing of events to create stories that viewers (or readers) will connect with. Yeah, it’s formulamatic to an extent. But once you understand the principles at work, you’ll find yourself relaying them more and more in your writing.
The last book for the day is a textbook. It’s a tad pricy. Believe me, it’s worth every penny. DEEPENING FICTION by Sarah Stone and Ron Nyren is practically a masterclass in creating compelling prose. If the price tag scares you off, there’s another version that’s less pricey, which omits the short story anthology, but so much of the authors’ intent is conveyed through the short stories that I can’t imagine the book without them.
So there you have it. Five books I’d recommend to anyone wanting to become a better writer through self-study. Do you have any suggestions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below!