Thursday, 8 July 2010

Creative Writing Books

Last year I attended a local creative writing course, and during the first lesson the tutor advised us not to waste money on creative writing books. I lowered my head and didn’t say anything, because I felt like I had a dirty little secret – I collect them. In fact, you could say I’m a bit obsessive. At the last count, I had 33.

I don’t buy them all brand new. Some are from charity shops; some from eBay. Others have been bought for me or by using gift vouchers. Occasionally, I will buy a new one.

Staring at all 36 books the other day (I’ve bought three since the last count), I realised that I’ll never be able to read them all from cover to cover – there just isn’t enough time. This realisation got me thinking about the desert island scenario. If I could only keep, say, five books, which five would it be?

I thought the process of choosing would be hard, but I soon realised I already had my favourites; the one’s I feel have helped me to progress the most with my writing. I’ve listed them below, with my reasons for selecting them:

Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande. This classic inspirational guide to becoming a writer was written in 1934, and whilst some of the information contained within is now out of date – a section on typewriters for example – the book itself is timeless. Brande doesn’t tell you how to write, but how to become a writer. She teaches you how to develop the writing habit.

There are two key things Brande says in her book that resonated with me when I first started writing. Firstly, with reference to her training suggestion of writing every day, "If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy early as late." I was determined to prove her wrong, and I did write every day. Secondly, with regards to a writer’s social life (she calls it recreation) she says, “If you feel, after an evening with the stolid friend, that the world is a dry and dusty place, or if you are exasperated to the point of speechlessness by your brilliant acquaintance, not the warmest emotion for them will justify your seeing them while you are trying to learn to write.” How true, I thought. We all know people that leave us feeling either mentally drained or completely inadequate. And I would go further and say this applies at any time in a writer’s career.

On Writing by Stephen King. Having always been a Stephen King fan, this was always going to be on my list. But it really is a fascinating insight into one of the world’s best loved writers. The book is divided into three sections. In the first Kings tells us about his childhood, growing up, and the processes that led to the publication of his first novel, Carrie. In the second section, he talks about his craft. In the third section he tells us about the 1999 road accident which nearly killed him, and the effects of that accident on his writing. I highly recommend this book, because it is both entertaining and informative.

The Elements of Style by JR Stunk and EB White. Recommended by Stephen King as the book every aspiring writer should read. I don’t need to say much more than that, other than rule 17, found under Principles of Composition – “Omit needless words.”

How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. I bought this book when I was 24 and in love with the idea of writing a sci-fi novel. I had written three “brilliant” chapters and needed some advice. So I bought this book, read the first chapter, and realised what I’d written was rubbish. I didn’t write another thing for 13 years. At this point you might be wondering why I’ve chosen this book. The answer is that I kept Scott Card’s book all those years, as a reminder that I had once had the ambition to write, and though it did take me 13 years to start again, I did. And I find his book an invaluable source of help.

A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. I found this book in the Bournemouth branch of Borders, and instantly fell in love with it. The author has divided the book into 365 days of writing advice and writing topics, and I cannot help but want to start writing the moment I pick it up. Countless story lines have been inspired by her daily writing suggestions. As one Amazon reviewer said, “If this book were a fruit it would be a delicious, juicy, ripe mango.”

So, those are my five choices. Do you have any of these books? Do you agree or disagree with my comments? I’d love to know your thoughts, and your own choices.


  1. The Dorothea Brande book was the first one I ever read on writing. I think I was about 15! I already knew I wanted to write, but it took me many more years to become serious about it. The Stephen King is also brilliant. I refer to that one quite often for a bit of inspiration. I don't know the other 3 books you mention but I do like the sound of the last one.

  2. The Strunk never seems to become obsolete. :)

    Most of my writing books are reference works. I love the Writers' Digest Books for this (especially Deadly Doses, which I read for 'pleasure').

    I also liked On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association. Haven't read On Writing by Stephen King, but I enjoyed Danse Macabre, where he talks about horror fiction in general.

  3. Thanks for these recommendations and reviews! I really found my open uni coursebook (we referred to it lovingly as The Big Red Book) very helpful - it had practical exercises and was most useful when used in conjunction with the course!

    Take care

  4. What? No Natalie Goldberg?

  5. Joanne - I wish I'd found Becoming A Writer at 15!

    Sarah G - The more I'm writing the more I'm heading towards the horror genre, so I'll have to get On Writing Horror. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Old Kitty - I often wondered about the OU courses. Maybe something for the future.

    Suz - if it helps, Writing Down the Bones would definitely make it into my top ten ;)

  6. I'm feeling rather guilty now as I admit I don't actually own any writing advice books. :/
    I have read a few, borrowed from the library, but none of them have made much impact on me as I can't even remember the titles!
    However, I did do a proofreading course some years ago and there was a writing advice booklet included and I found that had some good advice, besides that I think I've just made my own mistakes and learned by them, eventually. Admittedly, that's taken a long time!

  7. I'm a writing book junkie too! I currently have 38 with one more on the way. :)

    Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Write Away by Elizabeth George and Right to Write by Julia Cameron are a few of my recently-read favorites. I read books like this pretty much constantly. Even if the information isn't new they still help keep the principals of good writing in mind as well as keeping me inspired.

  8. penandpaints - don't feel guilty. You have to do what works for you.

    Janel - someone who has more books than me! I've got Write Away, but not the other two. I'll be visiting Amazon later!


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