Writers have a habit of writing about obsessions. Not only is it fun, it’s easy, and it’s a little thrilling to make a confession, isn’t it? That’s an addiction in itself.
Among many other things (cherries, chocolate, chickadees, etc.), I’m seriously addicted to “how to” books about writing. I just love them. New ones, old ones, good ones. I’ve even learned a thing or two from the not-so-good!
This came up recently because my friend and fellow writer Joy Wright asked me to share a few favorites and I thought it’d be fun to post my list here.
The sacred texts for me will always be The Art of Fiction by John Gardner and What If by Pamela Painter and Anne Bernays. The latter is a pithy, noble book and a must-have for any serious writer. The former is just fun to read, a little more accessible and chock-full of good writing prompts. Oh, and another oldie-but-goodie is Flannery O’Connor’s book of essays on writing and more, Mystery and Manners.
I’ve also recently acquired a few newer ones I’d like to tell you about. John Dufresne’s The Lie that Tells a Truth and his book specifically on flash fiction (Flash!) are excellent. As are the books by Fred White (The Daily Writer, The Daily Reader and Writing Flash), whom I’ve lauded before.
The Byline Bible by Susan Shapiro is my new favorite for writing nonfiction because it takes you out of the classroom into the real world at warp speed. She generously shares numerous essays (by her and students) that broke into the big time (The New York Times and more). She conveniently categorizes the type of essays being written today so you can figure out where your own essays might fit in. Think you might not have an experience worth writing about? Think again, according to Shapiro.
Other books I’ve enjoyed include Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer and Melanie Faith’s In a Flash. And for all you poets out there, the list of poetry writing guides is too numerous for this blog post, but I’ll give a short list of my favorites, at least for now.
The Daily Poet by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano is a lovely book with lots of delicious writing inspiration, as are The Crafty Poet guide books by Diane Lockward. (I have one and two and a third just came out). Ted Kooser’s Poetry Home Repair Manual was also helpful, along with The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux.
In the end, however, you can learn the most by reading firsthand the actual works of great writers themselves. And this is what separates the professional from the amateur. So read, read, read….and READ–the best way to learn how the masters do it.
“A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader, is a re-reader.” ~ Vladimir Nabokov
P.S. You knew there would be at least one more, right? Please, please check out Arthur Plotnik’s Spunk and Bite. There are a thousand little nuggets inside that will help your writing positively sizzle!