Just about every author who’s made their name has at some point penned a book on how to write. There are, literally, thousands to choose from.
I’ve read quite a few; and there are quite a few more I still wish to read.
The best, I feel, are the ones that offer advice that can not only be easily followed, but can be reliably replicated.
Here are three of my favourites, and what career-changing lessons I learned from them.
Stephen King’s On Writing
There are very few writers (and fans) I’ve met who haven’t read this book.
It is part memoir, part writing masterclass.
King’s advice for writers runs the gamut, from the practical (avoid adverbs) to the inspirational (writing is about being happy).
When he breaks into memoir mode, he speaks of a surprisingly normal, middle-America upbringing, and nondescript rise to fame.
I love the journey he took to get where he is — the nail on his wall impaled with so many rejection letters it could no longer hold their weight is probably my favourite anecdote.
I get a real sense of the single bloody-mindedness of purpose King uses to get words on the page.
And that, above all else, was the message I took away from On Writing: there is no magic formula, no tireless muse, no mystical state of being that will write the story for me.
Hard graft is all I need.
Mark Tredinnick’s The Little Red Writing Book
This was the first book on writing that I ever read.
It’s perfect for the dabbler who wants to start honing their craft.
Tredinnick breaks writing down into its components — the sentence, the language, the structure — and demonstrates how to make each better.
He speaks to writers of fiction and non-fiction; beginners and veterans alike. The exercises he employs were as useful to me as a beginner as they are today.
I love how he uses contemporary examples to illustrate each point — Graham Greene, Cormac McCarthy, Pat Barker — some of whose work I’ve gone on to read and love.
Of the numerous lessons learnt from this book, the one approaching epiphany for me was this: good writing is brief and efficient.
Joanna Penn’s The Successful Author Mindset
The Successful Author Mindset is a very personal journey, relying heavily on tracts from Penn’s own journals.
The book lays out some common emotional stages of being a author — fear of judgement, lacking self-discipline, creative dissatisfaction.
Penn doesn’t shy away, either, from baring her own mindset at every stage of her writing career — from the fumbling beginner to the best-seller she is today.
Reading the book is an emotional journey for me as well. Each stage (that I’ve thus far encountered in my own path) is distressingly accurate — as if she has a tap into my own inadequacies.
Most importantly of all, Penn offers solid advice on how to deal with each stage of the author journey.
I’ve learnt much from this book about emotionally coping with being a writer and author: what I thought were solitary and reproachful feelings are in fact a common experience among authors, and I should not let them consume me.
A member of my writing group is planning her own version of this apparent rite of passage. I may even do one myself one day (though, I’d have to gain a world of experience before I could think of preaching about it).
Until then, I’m content to bask in the wisdom of others.
What books about writing would you recommend?
All images from Pixabay and various book covers