Friday, March 13, 2009

Book Recommendations Required

The above picture has absolutely nothing to do with the following post. I just decided to add it for the following reasons:

1. I would love to be able to buy a package of Oreos that has the above pictured cookie inside. They could package it as their new formula of 95% creme filling, 5% not especially tasty cookie that you eat only to get to the filling anyway.

2. This post will be about books, not cookies, and I was going to find a picture of a stack of books and post that, but it just seemed so predictable so I went with the cookie instead.

3. It's Friday. That is reason enough.

Okay, let's move onto the actual topic of this post. As you may or may not know, I recently finished the first draft of my WIP.

And that's exciting, but it's also scary because I've been writing this thing for so long that I've become quite settled into my little writing mode, and now I need to totally reset myself into rewriting mode. To help push myself into this mode I thought that it might be a good time to read some books on the craft of writing.

The writing books that I have in my collection right now are:

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers

This book was given to me by my mother-in-law (Whom, as I have mentioned many times, is pretty awesome.) several months before I began writing my first novel.

The book was pretty great too, although it's been a while since I've read it so my memory is a bit shaky. Mostly the book consisted of: history of how the author got into publishing, advice for writers, and a breakdown of how the publishing industry works.

Now that I am thinking about it, I should just put this book at the top of my to-be-read pile since it seems due for a reread.

I bought Stephen King's On Writing between finishing the first draft of my first novel and moving onto rewrites. A close friend had read it and recommended it to me, plus Stephen King is a pretty recognizable name and I thought he might know a thing or two that I wouldn't mind knowing myself.

The book is actually half memoir, half writing advice, but both are, in my opinion, worth reading.

The writing stuff is straight-forward and filled with excellent examples, while the life stuff from getting his start, to overcoming addiction, and finally surviving a life-threatening injury after being hit by a car is all really inspirational.

I bought this one after my friend Jenny read the first draft of my first novel and filled it with comments like, "THIS IS A RUN-ON SENTENCE. PUT ANOTHER PERIOD SOMEWHERE, PLEASE!." and "YOU CANNOT JUST PUT A COMMA HERE." To be fair here comments started out more like, "Hey Kate, you might want to put a comma here", then got progressively more terse "comma", until finally at her wits end she started using the shouting all caps.

Having read good reviews for Eats, Shoots, and Leaves I decided to give it a read and see if it might solve some of my punctuation problems. After I began reading I realized there was one little problem, the author was British and as she pointed out many times throughout the book, their system is sometimes subtly different from ours.

Still, I finished the book because it was just outright entertaining. Never did I expect that a book about punctuation would make me laugh out loud, but this one did several times.

Finally, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips For Better Writing is the most recent addition to my collection and was a Christmas gift from one of my online crit partners.

I haven't actually gotten around to reading it yet, as I was waiting until I was ready to start rewrites, which now that I am at that point, I will certainly be opening it up any day now.

I should also mention that I had a copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style while in high school and what lessons didn't sink through my thick skull I know how to look up on the Internet.

Okay, so that's what I have, but what is my collection missing? I'd love any comments telling me what writing instruction or grammar books do you swear by? Or do you find such books a waste of time or a distraction?


  1. What a wonderful post and fabulous picture! I am working on my first book/short story and I found Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD to be very good and motivational. Congrats on your writing!

  2. I have a fair amount of books from Writer's Digest. They have a series that deals with specific parts of fiction writing: character and viewpoint, scene and structure, plot, description, and several others. I'm too lazy to look up all of the authors, but you could probably Google them.

    For grammar, I enjoy The Deluxe Transitive Vampire. It reviews the elements of grammar and illustrates the points with an eclectic cast of characters.

  3. Writing books are not a waste of time. I love the Eats Shoots and Leaves book. It's fantastic and funny.

    One of my favorites is The Art of Fiction by John Gardner.

    Thank you for these great reviews!

  4. I LOVED On Writing! I like that it was straight forward, plus all his personal stuff was worth reading.

    I also have the book Writing On Both Sides of the Brain, my friend bought it for me. It's got great reviews, but I haven't been able to read it yet.

  5. Grammar... ahh. I never thought I had any trouble with it, until it was pointed out to me I SUCK at it!! LOL!

    Anyway - I really enjoyed Save the Cat. Its for screenwriting, but it translates easily to books.
    Right now I'm reading Plot and Structure, and its helping me strengthen (I hope) my work.

  6. I agree that On Writing, Bird by Bird, and The Art of Fiction are all fabulous books. I also really love Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist. It is inspirational and has great advice.

    Another book I think that is great for rewrites is Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern. It's been a long time since I read that one, but mostly I remember him explaining what conventions work and don't work. Um, I guess that sounds pretty vague. But it really is one of those awesome books that as you read it, you're thinking about your own wip and what you've done wrong and how you can make it better.

  7. Bingo - I have heard of Bird by Bird and was definitely considering that one, thanks for the recommendation!

    Sandra - OMG the Deluxe Transitive Vampire sounds great!

    Lady Glamis - I agree it's not a waste of time. Never heard of The Art of Fiction, I'll have to check it out.

    Brooke - Thanks for the link and suggestions, another one to check out.

    December - Ooh, I agree books for screenwriting can definitely be applied to any part of writing!

    Annie - The Jerome Stern one sounds great, and the way you explained it is perfect! Thank you.

  8. Bird by Bird and Save the Cat have been two of my mainstays. I read Orson Scott Card's Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy (forget the exact title) and that wasn't bad.

  9. I'd also recommend The Art Of Fiction by John Gardner. That really helped me.

    Carolyn See also has a book called Making A Literary Life that's really good for the writer's soul.

  10. Alex and David - Thank you both for the great suggestions. I think you have both pushed Bird by Bird and The Art of Fiction to the top of my list!

  11. OMGoodness I showed that pictures to my kids. I think I've inspired them, lol.

    I love Stephen King's On Writing. I consider it a must in every writers toolbox.

  12. How about a book on Oreo cookies?


    I'm going to check out that last one. It looks like it might be kinda interestin'.

  13. Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. One of those Writer's Digest books and well worth the time.