I’ve met some writers who read writing craft books religiously, and others who swear off them completely (in favour of learning from published authors in their preferred genre), and the middle ground who cherry-pick as needed.
If I had to categorise myself at all, I’d say I’m a cherry-picker. I find books on ‘how to write’ of most use when I hit a wall, usually finding that a half hour or so reading sparks some idea in me and I’m off and typing again.
I’ve also been in the situation where I see the books as a crutch that are stopping me from getting any actual writing done!
I have a fair collection of ‘how to write’ books; but the following are my most thumbed (in no particular order);
- The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction – Philip Athens
Somewhere along the line of realising I watched a lot of sci-fi I came to the decision that there was a story I wanted to tell – but I had no idea where to start or what the ‘rules’ for writing sci-fi were. This Guide is constructed in a very linear fashion courtesy of the ‘six steps’ on which it is based, each step covering a different aspect of the construction of a sci-fi work, from characters to world-building and all the monsters in between.
- Fiction Writer’s Workshop – Josip Novakovich
This is one of the first writing books I picked up. If you’re anything like me you start out on an online course with the best of intentions and then life gets in the way, or the tutor isn’t very engaging (or the lessons and examples haven’t been updated since the 1980s – you know who you are). This is a course in a book which you can pick up at any point and do a bit of reading, then put it into practice with the exercises provided.
- Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing
This is a great little book when the idea of flicking through your pile of back issue Writer’s Digest magazines saps you of the will to live. It is pure and simply a collection of the best articles on the craft as published in WD, all neatly sorted into categories from what to do with the first spark of an idea, through to thoughts on getting published.
- The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase – Mark Forsyth
This isn’t a traditional ‘how to’ book, it’s more of a ‘how to use language’ book. I have an amateur passion for etymology and this book builds on that passion by revealing the secrets of how language is constructed, and the tricks to make it work for you. Chock full of examples that show you how writers manipulate readers through clever sentence construction – you’ll even be convinced that alliteration can be a good thing when used correctly!
Which camp do you fall into – addict/avoidance/cherry-picker? Which ‘how to’ books have you found most useful?
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