Best Writing Books

As someone who writes (something in me shies away from calling myself a "writer," as if I need an agent and a published work to my credit before I can attach that title to myself: WRITER...but I digress, as many people who write do), I am not one who reads books after book about the craft of or the business of writing.

At least not until lately.

At the recommendation of writerly friends (I have no problem calling other people "writers"--just can't quite go there myself...YET..EVER??), I picked up a few books on the craft of writing and found them extremely illuminating and (GASP!) helpful. Even encouraging, perhaps.

So I thought, now that I have these lovely little page tabs on my blog to fill, wouldn't it be interesting to share some of my favorite books on writing? Of course, if you're a writer, you've probably already perused (bought? underlined vociferously?) these titles. But in case these books are new to you, I share them in the spirit of writerly friendship.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, 1994.
Already being a fan of Lamott's trilogy of memoirs (Traveling Mercies, Plan B and Grace, Eventually), I couldn't resist adding this little book to my library. Having seen Lamott at The Writers Symposium by the Sea in past years in which she referred to Bird by Bird several times, I thought I'd swing through this little book quickly.

It took me nearly a year to read it.

Why? Laying aside my usual excuses of being a busy homeschooling mother of four, I needed to read a chapter at a time, then mull it over for a few weeks before proceeding to the next. This book requires chewing. It's a wise little book, especially when one realizes that Lamott wrote this before the trilogy of books that put her on the map, so to speak. She writes as a teacher of writing--an aspect I value as that is my vocation as well--and also as a professional writer. Her chapter on shitty first drafts is the most helpful advice I have ever received as a writ...oops, as someone who writes. And she's hilarious. If I were to recommend only ONE book on writing (heaven forbid!), I would recommend Bird by Bird. No contest.

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, 1934.
My dear poet/writer friend Kathryn Belsey recommended this little gem to me, bravely lending me her copy. I thoroughly enjoyed her wise notes and observations penciled in the margins but wanted to write my own remarks as well (I am well-known for holding conversations with authors in the margins of their books), so I purchased my own copy and returned the borrowed one (after jotting down her notes, of course, in the margins of my new copy).

Brande discusses the creative process of writing, suggests exercises and schedules for writing, and is eminently practical in her approach to the craft of writing. Observation, she notes, is key to the writer's craft--seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. This book is charming--a true gem--and an encouragement especially to the beginning writer.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, 2000.
Not being much of a Stephen King fan after reading Salem's Lot my during my freshman year of college (and thus being terrified to walk the campus after dark for the remainder of the school year), I found myself more intrigued by his short stories (especially the ones collected into Skeleton Key) than by his novels. But Kathryn's daughter Emily and many other writerly-type friends kept recommending this book to me that I finally caved and ordered it from the library. When I felt the strong desire to underline every other sentence (and when my overdue fine was exorbitantly high), I decided to purchase my own copy.

King is modest, transparent, real. He explains his struggles, his thought processes, his compulsion to put down ideas on paper. The book is subtitled "A Memoir of the Craft" and thus it is more memoir than actual writing advice. But much can be gleaned between the lines from King's experiences as a "successful" writer (whatever that means), and the book is often laugh-out-loud funny. A great summer read that requires a little gnawing around the edges but not the chewing that Bird by Bird demands.

The Writer's Jungle by Julie Bogart, 2001, 2008.
Now as a book for teaching writing to children, nothing beats this book. I couldn't find a single image on the Internet (including the
Brave Writer site, shame, shame!), so I took a photo of my ancient copy that Julie gave me when I first started working for her. So yes, I freely admit that I am not exactly unbiased when it comes to Brave Writer since I've worked there since 2002, but I work there because of the quality of the products and classes, especially THIS product.

Julie approaches teaching writing as a professional writer, not as an academic discipline, training moms how to teach their kids to express themselves, developing their voice as writers. Writing isn't so much an academic class as it becomes a method of discovery, a mode of expression. The Writer's Jungle brings families together as they work as a team to develop writing as an enjoyable and helpful manner of self-expression. Friends of mine who teach high school and community college writing courses have found much in this book to apply to their own teaching styles.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style by Laurie Rozakis, 2003.
The ideal single reference volume on grammar and style. Don't let the title put you off--this brightly-hued book is all the fun it appears to be. The explanations are clear and concise, the examples and exercises often taken from ubiquitous Internet forwards, and the organization impeccable. Any grammar question can be quickly located and is addressed with clarity and panache. One might believe that grammar actually CAN BE FUN.

Keep this one on the shelf above your writing desk; you're gonna need it. Often.

Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O'Connor, 2003.
If one is truly a grammarphobe or, on the other hand, enjoys reading about grammar more than doing blah and boring exercises, this little book is for you. O'Connor tickles our ribs with this little book that instructs while it entertains. And isn't that what we all want to do as writ...people who write? It's a fun beach read and you might actually learn something you thought you knew...but didn't. Well-worth your time. Also a Brave Writer recommendation.

So those are my picks--subject to change, as these fun pages always are. If you have a favorite that you think I just HAVE to read, e-mail me and I'll put it on my (exhaustive) want-to-read list.

Happy Writing, All!


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