Confessional Classic: My Top Five Books on Writing

For the holiday week, we’re digging into the archives and bringing up some buried gems you might not have seen the first time around. I just reread book #4 on this list last week and got a lot of comfort and a new short story from it, so this post felt ripe to revisit. Happy Turkey Day Y’all, and see you next week.

I love to read books on writing. Here are my 5 favorites, selected primarily for inspiration, rather than just instruction.

5. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

A zen approach to writing, and one of those books you don’t need to read chronologically but can just skim through based on mood. Goldberg’s chapter topics vary from the workman “Don’t Tell But Show,” to the surreal “One Plus One Is A Mercedes Benz.” Here, instinct is king, and discipline is his queen.

4. Take Joy by Jane Yolen

A sweet little book, that begins by sensibly pointing out that since we choose to write, perhaps it is not the act of writing that makes us miserable but the specter of publication that can hang over every scribbled word. All we can count on, Yolen writes, is the joy in the process of writing. A great book for anyone who gets the fidgety sweats as soon as they open up Word.

3. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

This is one of those viral books. A friend read it and immediately gifted me a copy. I read it and immediately lent it out to someone else. Since I don’t have it on hand I can’t quote from it, but I can tell you The War of Art is waged against Resistance, Resistance that tells you not to try, Resistance that is un-creation, Resistance that says it’s easier to watch TV, to take a nap, to organize your desk, Resistance that drags even harder on your heart and mind the closer you get to the finish line. If you’ve ever written a novel and then spent an excessive amount of time tinkering with it instead of shopping it, you know Resistance. If you ever wanted to write a novel but felt too inadequate to even try, or got five pages in and became overwhelmed and quit, you know Resistance. Buy this book and become a warrior for Art.

2. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

The first book on writing I ever purchased, as a pink-cheeked little teenager. Absolutely indispensable for anyone new to the spec fic game, it explains how to create fully fleshed fictional worlds in a easily digestible format. From this book I learned, among other things, that if you want to catch ideas you need to spread a net, and that all magic has a price.

1. On Writing by Stephen King

I come back to this book over and over. It never fails to comfort, to inspire, and to make me laugh. I guess it’s just King’s inimitable style, but this book feels like talking to an old friend who knows a shit-lot more than you do. It’s my chicken soup book.

Honorable mention goes to  the Write Great Fiction Series by Writer’s Digest. I own Beginnings, Middles, & Ends, Plot & Structure, and Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, and they are all great reference books.

Of course, I’m always looking for more books to read. Got a great book on writing not listed here? Tell me about it the comments! Thanks!

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