My Favorite Books On Writing

Every author has them:  go-to books on writing they turn to when plots won’t thicken, when the right word won’t appear, or when the fog on the river seems to have clouded their entire manuscript. 

Writing is by definition a lonely task. First on my list includes several that have, on days when I felt not even my best writing friend would understand, been the shoulders I’ve gone to for solace, for guidance, and, yes, to hear that for someone else life had been even worse, and writing, and sanity, had survived.  (Told you – these are for the truly bad days!) 

Number one on my “getting through the bad times” list is, appropriate titled, Writing Past Dark, by Bonnie Friedman. This book isn’t about writing techniques or about critique groups. It’s about the emotional side of writing: the need to be perfect. The fear of what will happen if you write about your family or close friends.  The envy of other writers, who seem to have figured it all out.

Number two, for days when you’re sure your problems are worse than anyone else’s, is Stephen King’s On Writing. Not only does he throw in some real writing advice — he convinces you you’re not working hard enough. Plus, you’re (probably) not even on drugs or alcohol. What’s your problem?  And if you’re still hesitating, and need a gentler push, there’s Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. A book no writer should be without.

OK. So, psychologically, you’ve got it together. YOU do.  It’s your plot that has the problems. For plot issues, my go-to book is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. Once I wrote an entire book based on its outline — but even when I don’t do that, it’s my “go-to ” book if something in my plot is sagging. 

I’ve found other keys to putting me back on track in the books literary agent and novelist Donald Maass has written. He’s known for his Writing the Breakout Novel, and I like it, too, but right now my favorite is his newest book, Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling. He lists questions for you to ask yourself, and your characters, about their motivations, and I find the answers to those questions are often exactly what I need to move my story forward. 

And finally, for those perfect words that escape capture at just the wrong moments, my go-to thesaurus is Roget’s Super Thesaurus, which I’ve almost worn out. And I have a new one, untried by time, but it has possibilities:  The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi,  which includes physical, mental and internal reactions to various emotions.  Some of them are trite  … but used sparingly they could be helpful.         

Of course, all of these books are crutches of some sort. But, as I started – writing can be lonely. And sometimes we all need a little help from our friends. 

What are your favorite books on writing?


One Response

  1. I loved Bird by Bird, too. You just have to keep plugging, and there’s no magic to it, much as we all wish for some. I’m past worrying about perfection.

    But thanks for suggesting some I didn’t know about. Maybe one of these days . . .

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