My Favourite Books on Writing

More than paper

Some might call my love for books hoarding. It’s true that I have trouble parting with even a single one and I continually yearn for more. If I have a hoarding disorder, it’s beyond treatment because I refuse to change. Words are comfort to me. Books are my friends.

Amongst the companions I hold closest are the books on writing. They believe in me when I need it, give me wise advice, and help me through difficult times. Plus, they’re within reach 24/7—stable and generous.

My book companions now

With each stage of my journey as a writer, I draw close to different book companions, but I never lose touch with any of them. At the moment, these are the gurus and kind companions that stand closest to my keyboard:

  • For a strong jolt of inspiration, I turn to “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard. She helps me celebrate the bravery of writing and its magic too. She gives me the courage to accept that writing a story or a collection of them takes whatever time it takes. A seventh draft may be the last or there may need to be more, but all will be well as long as I keep writing. Instructional books are important, but first we need to sustain the desire to write.
  • A good friend not only accepts your feelings, but understands why they’re important. Until I met this particular book friend, I assumed that plots were driven by action. Now that I’ve read and re-read “From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction” by Robert Olen Butler, I know that stories are driven by yearning and feelings are experienced by our senses. Since I’ve started to allow yearning to steer my stories, they’ve become more like dreams and hopefully as useful.
  • Sometimes a woman needs a serious talk with a wise friend. That’s when I sit down with “Deepening Fiction: A Practical Guide for Intermediate and Advanced Writers” by Sarah Stone and Ron Nyren. Make no mistake. This is not a quick-answer reference book. To get the most out of this wisdom, a person needs to devote several hours for each chapter, maybe even several days. Not that I mind. I’ve discovered revolutionary techniques that have transformed my stories. It’s an amazing friend to have at your side: theory, the best short stories, and exercises. So far, I’ve not found this level of advanced technique anywhere else.
  • Other times what I really need is balloons and party whistles. That’s when I hang out with “Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction” by Jeff Vander Meer. Reading this book is like visiting an art gallery for kids that translates the basics of creative writing into fun. Fire-breathing dragons show me how to plot. Treasure maps help me think about pacing. It’s all there: infographics inhabited by cuddly monsters, interviews with master writers, and practical analysis of fiction examples.
  • When trouble hits and I find myself lost, I return to the wisest trail guide who ever lived. If a story is in serious trouble, I show it to this guy. Many years ago, I was told to look to screenwriters for help on structure. That’s good advice and the best book for that purpose is “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” by Syd Field.
  • Do you ever dig yourself into a rut, trying over and over again to make a story work, when unbeknownst to yourself, you could figure it out easily if only you weren’t blinded to the wealth of possibilities confusing your imagination? This happens to me often. When it does, I dig into “The Seven Basic Plots” by Christopher Booker. How many plots there are in the world is the least interesting thing to me. What counts is the wealth of stories packed into this doorstop of a book. He brings together plots from opera, plays, novels, television and film–both modern and old. It never fails to give me fresh ideas and clarity.

How about you?

What books have helped you as a writer? I’d love to know. After all, who doesn’t want more books… I mean, friends?

By Debbie Bateman

I'm an innovative thinker with a practical nature and a passion for explaining complex ideas simply. This makes me a dedicated and meticulous instructional designer, curriculum writer, and plain language editor. As a bonus, I am a storyteller, fiction writer, and novel editor.

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