I came to writing late and have always felt under-read. When I was starting out I didn't know where to start, how to nourish the deficiencies in my understanding of the craft of writing. The books below helped me write my way out of the wilderness and into a greater understanding of how to be a writer and to write the work that is most pressing to me. These are the six books on writing that I have held close over the years. I hope you'll find one or two of them as helpful as I did.
1. Best Book from a Master of the Craft
On Writing by Stephen King
King is known for his direct writing and expansive plots. This book tells you how he does it, from his early struggles to his eventual success. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. It is also a super fun read.
2. Best Book to Help You Overcome Writing Fears
The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes
This was the first book on writing I ever received. My dad gave it to me as a stocking stuffer and it changed my life, gave me permission to write and overcome the anxiety I felt about what people would think of my work. Keyes offers specifics on how to root out dread of public "performance" and of the judgment of family and friends, make the best use of writers' workshops and conferences, and handle criticism of works in progress.
3. Best Book to Help You Live the Writing Life
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
This book will help you feel less alone even as you find yourself in the dark, staring at the blank page wondering if your work even matters. In this collection of short essays, Dillard illuminates the dedication, absurdity, and daring that characterize the existence of a writer. A moving account of Dillard’s own experience, The Writing Life offers deep insight into one of the most mysterious professions.
4. Best Book to Help You Get from Point A to Point B
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
When I first started writing I thought I had to have the entire story mapped and figured out. I didn't understand that you can trust yourself not to know. Lamott taught me that I could let the story develop in front of me, writing only what I see one Polaroid picture at a time. In this way the pages, and indeed the story itself, start to gather into something meaningful one page at a time.
5. Best Collection of Writing Essays
Thrill Me by Benjamin Percy
Too often writing is grouped unfairly into camps: it is either literary or genre. In this book, Percy implores us to prize the sentence and the story. He challenges the notion that literary and genre fiction are somehow mutually exclusive. In fifteen essays on the craft of fiction, Percy looks to disparate sources such as Jaws, Blood Meridian, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to discover how contemporary writers engage issues of plot, suspense, momentum, and the speculative, as well as character, setting, and dialogue.
6. Best Book for Beginners
Ron Carlson Writes a Story by Ron Carlson
This slim book presents three simple concepts that every writer needs to master, and Carlson provides a clear-eyed explanation of each one: Inner Story, Outer Story, and Inventory. Mastering these three concepts will change the way you write.