Before you bury yourself in the available hundreds of how-to books, take another moment to ask what your problem is—some books are very nuts-and-bolts, step-by-step instructions, and others are more philosophical. As a critic, here’s my definition of a good book about writing: when you’re done reading it, you feel like writing something (rather than, say, going to Tolstoy’s tomb and burning your manuscript). There are more out there that I’ve heard good things about (tell us your favorites in the comments!); the below are what I’ve read so far.
General glimpse at the life:
- On Writing, by Stephen King (yes, that SK)
Calming, you can do it:
- The Novel Writer’s Toolkit, by Bob Mayer. This can be overwhelming to read cover to cover, as he talks about the publishing and promotion process as well as writing and submitting.
- Page after Page, by Heather Sellers. She has some great exercises for overcoming fear, as well as helping you answer the question “why write?”
- No Plot? No Problem, by Chris Baty is sort of the NaNo handbook, wherein he explains the blast-it-out rationale and then gives some tips to keep yourself moving
Creative process, stalled muse:
- Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path, by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott. Instead of problems with the story, Pickard and Lott talk about the various blocks and resistances common among artists, important to differentiate so they may be appropriately treated.
- Writing Alone and with Others, by Pat Schneider. The “with others” part has become the bible of workshop leaders: how to handle time together and do things like critique respectfully. The “alone” part has to do with making a commitment and respecting your own right to speak.
- Chapter after Chapter, by Heather Sellers. This is sort of a sequel to Page after Page, and gets down to specifics about writing long works.
- Novel Writer’s Toolkit, Mayer
- Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. What does each moment have to contribute to the story. Especially helpful if your question is whether to include particular scenes or details.
- Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, by Nancy Kress. In addition to talking about what happens in each section of the book, Kress talks about various states of block and diagnoses them as problems with particular sections. My problem is middles, and this book has been so helpful I inadvertently bought two copies.
- Novelist’s Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes, by Raymond Obstfeld. Another great one about what happens in scenes and putting them together to make the plot.
- Goals, Motivation, and Conflict, by Deb Dixon (called GMC for short, and you can google this and get a heap of stuff in addition to getting the book). I talked about GMC as a character and plot development tool in “The Trouble with Thrillers.”