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Indispensable Books on Writing

These aren’t the only books on writing, but most of them are classics. If you’ve somehow missed one or more of them, this is your chance to make up for lost time. All are widely available, both online and in stores.
 

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

If you could have only one book on how to write, this is it. In less than 100 pages, it offers enough substance to keep you going for a lifetime. Strunk’s seven rules of usage and eleven principles of composition, combined with E. B. White’s delicious final chapter on style, make the book a usable, practical, true gem.

 

You can read this inspiring little book in a few hours, but you will never forget it. Bradbury takes you back to why you wanted to write in the first place, and he passes on some of the techniques that have worked best for him, with examples from his own work. I first read this book more than 20 years ago, but I've never forgotten Bradbury's advice of "Don't think! Write! Relax!", which he says can be followed in any order.
 
I have used this superb book since it first came out in 1993. I have also recommended it to novelists whose books I was editing and now to writing students. Professional editors Browne and King explore the range of techniques essential to a fiction writer, with sample passages that give you practice in editing. Named one of "six indispensable books for writers" by the L.A. Times.
 
Though aimed at writers of nonfiction, this book will improve your writing even if all you write are business letters. With wit, clarity, and brio, Zinsser zeroes in on what’s wrong with “bad” writing and then shows you how to make it clear, crisp, and clean.   “There's no sentence that's too short in the eyes of God,” says Zinsser.

How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling
by James Frey

Entertaining and concise, this book is as valuable to those who have been writing for years as it is for beginners. From the basics of good writing to masterful tips on developing a compelling premise and bringing the story to a climax, novelist and teacher James Frey offers down-to-earth principles and hard-hitting suggestions.  

Author Jerry Cleaver insists that anyone can be a successful writer with the right tools. Founder of the venerable Writers' Loft in Chicago, in this book he presents those tools one by one, including writing exercises that let you practice as you read. Cleaver is both motivating and clear about makes good fiction “tick”. You can’t go wrong following his advice.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

When this book came out, I first heard about it from many successful, working writers. That alone recommends it. An agent whose clients include Anne Perry and James Patterson, Donald Maass delves into what it takes for a novel to become a best-seller. Using examples from his own chart-topping clients, Maass provides real-world, insider examples on how to make your novel rise above the pack.

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

Now available in paperback, this classic on the art and craft of writing science fiction and fantasy isn’t so much a how-to book as a discussion of the elements that define these genres. Topics include inventing a world, creating alien societies, the rules of magic, and how to use the MICE (milieu, idea, character, event) quotient to structure a successful story. A SF/fantasy master, Card has won both Hugo and Nebula awards for his novels.

 

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala Library) by Natalie Goldberg

First published in 1986, this book is as fresh as the day it appeared. I have reread it often, and also given it to friends who aspire to write. A writing teacher and practitioner of Zen, Goldberg isn’t so concerned with technique or how-to’s as she is with each person finding his or her own groove. Once you start reading, you can’t put it down, but you’ll have to because Goldberg gets you so fired up and eager to do your own writing.

 

 © Copyright 2007 by Donna Ippolito