Monday, November 23, 2009

Recommended Reading

We all have go-to reading lists for writing and learning, and there have been a ton of blog posts done about this subject already. I don’t spend a lot of time reading books on the craft, but the ones I have read have been really good. So this is my list of the books I found particularly helpful in my writing. I learned a lot from each.

I resisted reading books on writing until it became clear that reading a few would greatly improve my understanding of structure. I don’t have an MFA and never studied writing in school. To be honest, I had to teach myself how to start using proper grammar after I got my first tech writing job. It continues to amaze me how I got away with not knowing the difference between "its"and "it’s" for so long.

  • Hooked by Les Edgerton. This is a fabulous book and it really touches on a few points of novel structure that other books might not. I liked the terminology Edgerton uses for the story problem external problem (other terms I’ve seen include internal and external). It’s short, very readable, and highly useful. The last few chapters are full of advice from agents on what they like to see (and hate) in the first few pages.
  • The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life by Amy Tan. This is part memoir, part writing instruction a la Stephen King’s On Writing (which I haven’t read, but broke down and ordered it just recently). The memoir part is fascinating and of course ties into her writing advice. Tan has lived an astounding life. The only thing I wished she’d done is go into how she got to the point of acceptance for her first novel (The Joy Luck Club) because I know she belongs to a writing group. I would have liked to hear how that process helped her.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Anne is funny in anything she writes (I read Operating Instructions while nursing my newborn son and it was so perfect), and this is no exception. It has great advice on the process but you do need to remember that it comes just from her experience so not everyone will write the way she describes (she’s a real seat-of-the-pants writer). I didn’t get what she meant by taking things bird by bird until years after reading it.
  • Story by Robert McKee. Again I haven’t read the whole thing but this is the tome on structure, they say. I use it more as reference.
  • Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I LOVE this book. Well, I love plot, so this isn’t a stretch. But it’s well written and I think it should be required reading for every writer trying to write a novel.

What are yours?


Travener said...

Tell me what book about writing Hemingway read. I'll buy that one.

Sierra Godfrey said...

I'm pretty sure Hemingway read "How to be a pompous writer who is full of himself." Subtitled "Pomp and Pen."

Tina Lynn said...

Who's Hemingway?

CKHB said...

I can't help laughing at the James Frey title. Maybe he should have taken his own advice and CALLED HIS BOOK FICTION. /snark

Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See is quite fun... more about surviving the road to publication than writing craft, but still good.

I'll have to check out Hooked and the Amy Tan book!

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

Love, love, love Bird by Bird!

Definitely starring this in my reader. :)

Sierra Godfrey said...

Thanks Amber! Carrie, I'll check Making a Literary Life out.

Meghan Ward said...

Although I have a long list of writing books on my blog, the only one I've read recently is Story. I remember liking Bird By Bird and If You Want to Write by Barbara Ueland, but it's been ages since I read them. I also remember loving Writing Down the Bones, Wild Mind and Word Painting, but again, it's been a while!

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