Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Learning How To Write --- A Reading List

Wow, didn't think I'd make this one in on time. Lots of planning for England got done today. Just about two weeks before we leave. Hoo-boy.

For today, I simply present a brief list of books on writing that have impressed me over the years. I hope you all get a chance to read them. They're worth it.

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

The most important book on writing (and life in general) that I've read. Ever. I have almost memorized this book and I only learned of its existence about five months ago. Read it. It will change your life if you let it.

The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White

The second most important book on writing, if only for its brevity. Breaks down matters of grammar and technique into succinct, example-filled commandments and presents them to the reader as holy writ. This needs to be mastered before you begin thinking about breaking the rules.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

This book will always have a soft spot in my heart because it was the first time I was actually granted a window into the creative life. The trials and triumphs associated with that life made for a stirring read, though the number of near-tragic lives that seem to populate creative childhoods in the broader popular culture is somewhat off-putting for those of us who grew up in health homes, but I digress. The second half of the book, however, is all meat to put muscle onto the writing bones. Generally useful and straightforward advice presented in an entertaining manner. Not as easy to reference as something like The Elements of Style, but it earns points for presentation and accessibility.

Save the Cat! - The Last Book On Screenwriting That You'll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder

This one makes you work a bit more. Blake Snyder is, quite obviously, a screenwriter writing for potential screenwriters with the aim of making a living. He's not all that interested in art or craft or any genre aside from film. But he does understand structure and he does want to tell a good, original story. It takes a little abstract thinking and adaptation, but you can apply many of the lessons here to all forms of writing. Especially all the tools for outlining (though I don't agree that you have to do so much outlining before setting pen to paper.)

Stein On Writing, by Sol Stein

I haven't actually finished this one yet. But Sol Stein knows what he's talking about. He's worked on every end of the business in almost every genre and has been at it for a long time. (At least, by the time he wrote this book.) He has a very distinct angle with his genre (literary) and several clear biases (I don't think he'd appreciate being featured by a Fantasy-oriented writer.) But he does challenge us to bring our craft out of "mere" entertainment in order to try at being something actually meaningful in other people's lives. (Like, say, The Art of War. Seriously, people, go read it.)

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