Let’s face it: There are a seemingly infinite number of books about writing, but how do you distinguish a helpful resource from the hype-y ones that guarantee, say, a bestseller in one month flat?
Well first things first, like those get-rich schemes that pop up in infomercials late at night, anything that sounds too good to be true probably is. The truth is, great writing simply can’t be rushed. It’s a joyful yet painstaking process that requires time, effort and determination (and a killer critique partner wouldn’t hurt either).
There’s a good chance you’ll want to rip up whatever you’re working on at some point, but you stay the course even when it’s like Oscar Wilde once said: “I spent all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out.”
If you find yourself in the mood for a little writing education these days, I have seven suggestions that’ll help you on your way whether you’re looking for better ways to craft a scene, inspiration for when you’re feeling a little stuck or a grammar refresher that’ll leave you in stitches (and no, I’m not kidding).
With no further adieu, here are seven quarantine reads for you writer-y types…and just so you know, this isn’t a paid post. These are from my personal collection that I reference again and again.
Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody — As more of a pantser than a plotter, Save the Cat! lovingly steers me into having a little more method to my creative madness — a plantser if you will — as a novelist. By helping me zero in on the beats that make every good story work, I can make sure I’m hitting all the right notes as I develop my characters, plot, etc.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott — It’s no secret that writing a novel is intimidating. It’s one thing to have a great idea and quite another to build it out and see if it has legs. Anne Lamott clearly gets this, and in her warm, witty and very funny way that’s totally her, she encourages you to take the process “bird by bird.” Reading this made me feel like I could actually do it, and I did. Three times.
Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer — Books about grammar and style aren’t supposed to be rip-roaring funny, and yet here we are with Dreyer’s English. I devoured this in about three days and not only did I learn a ton, but I belly-laughed while doing it. His sense of humor and direction are spot-on.
Plot Perfect by Paula Munier — I had the pleasure of meeting Paula at a pitch session during the annual Writer’s Digest conference, and she’s an absolute gem. After listening about a minute, she gave me the best advice about my pitch, how to move the story forward and sent me on my way feeling encouraged. And that’s exactly what she does with Plot Perfect, too. With decades of industry experience and practical advice, she offers indispensable insight into what makes a story work, how to improve with every single draft and so much more.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway — Not only is this a fabulous insight into Paris in the ’20s and all the literary giants who wrote in the cafés, but Hemingway tucked some truly valuable secrets about storytelling in the pages. This is a book I return to whenever I need a big jolt of inspiration.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne & Dave King — Solid, practical advice in kicking your own manuscript’s booty into shape. There’s so much good in here, you’d waste a whole lot of neon yellow ink highlighting it all.
On Writing by Stephen King — I hate to be scared, so most of Stephen King’s books aren’t for me. Despite our differences in genre, however, he knows the writer’s life so well. You’ll find yourself nodding again and again as King discusses the finer points of living by your pen — successes, failures and otherwise.
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard — Annie Dillard is a wise, willful quote machine. There are so many writer-y things to ponder and learn from in The Writing Life. One of my favorites is this: “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time.“