5 writing books worth the price

As someone who has gone to school to learn how to write (and graduated With Distinction), I have quite a collection of books that claim to teach people how to write. To some extent, anything that you read will help you become a better writer, as the old prof’s advice goes. Ultimately, you learn how to write better by writing, and by reading. But here are some books that I’ve enjoyed, in case you’re convinced you need more of a handbook or manual to push you in the right direction.

How to Become A Famous Writer Before You’re Dead

Okay, so to be honest, this book is more about how to achieve success as a writer, which comes from public recognition of your work, but it’s definitely one of my favorites on the subject of writing. As I mentioned in my review of the book for Fiction Writers Review, it’s not a free ride, but it’s definitely within reach if you’re serious about success. And the advice Ariel Gore gives comes from a variety of perspectives, asking famous writers from all genres to explain their methods for achieving fame, if not fortune as well. If you’re at all DIY in your perspective, you’ll find this book incredibly helpful, because it’s not aimed at the traditional path of writing a book, getting an agent, getting signed by a big-deal publisher, and continuing to write bestsellers, Stephen King-style, for the rest of your life. There are alternatives, and Gore gives them in style.

The Copywriting Scorecard for Bloggers

This is a brand-new e-book, published by the hugely popular ProBlogger, Darren Rowse, and it’s well worth the introductory price of $9.97 (which is going up to $29.97 after the first two weeks). The book is literally a checklist of items that you can use each time you post to your blog, with the intent of improving your writing as well as your hits and, ultimately, your sales. Yes, it’s a copywriting book, but as Darren and Glenn point out, writing for the web is a hybrid of copywriting and storytelling. How do you tackle this brave new world of blogging? Well, you probably ought to get advice from a dude who was able to quit his job and blog full time, don’t you think? You can score a copy from the ProBloger site.

The Playwright’s Guidebook

As I mentioned in my previous post, “Reading as Rx,” this is for all you writers out there. Yes, I know, it’s about playwriting specifically. But don’t scratch it off your list if you write short stories, novels or even poems. It’s essential reading for all writers looking to build dramatic stories, because it discusses Aristotle’s Poetics in a modern way. (If you don’t know wtf the Poetics are, and you’ve been through any type of creative courses in your life, then god help you, cus your teachers have all had their heads up their asses.) Plus, Stuart Spencer is incredibly well-read and peppers his pointers with references to well-known works you should have already read, thereby suggesting in a very subtle way that if you haven’t, you should, forthwith. Seriously, dudes, it’s a creative writing degree in a book, probably the only practical book I’ve saved from my own days as a university writing student, which I reference whenever I find myself in a jam, and it’s totally worth the $16 to get a copy. All the rest are, as they say in Philosophy circles, mere footnotes to Plato (who was Aristotle’s teacher).

Bird by Bird

The subtitle of this oft-referenced and absolutely fantastic book is “Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” and Anne Lamott delivers both in alternating funny and poignant ways. One of her best chapters is entitled “Shitty First Drafts,” and suggests that even perfectionists must abandon their ideas of perfection just to get something on paper. The shitty first draft can be thrown away or edited until it’s perfect. Either way, you still need to get that awful crap down on paper so you know what you’re trying to say and have something to work with. The book is great for people whose expectations of themselves are so high that they believe they must write ALL or NOTHING. Lamott has given herself permission to fail, and passes this wisdom along to the reader. Another great suggestion? Don’t EVER buy fancy notebooks; they will only make you feel pressured to avoid writing shitty first drafts in them. This is exactly why I love the ugly 25-cent notebooks with 60 pages in them. Mistakes must be made in defense of art, after all.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published

Normally, I tend to avoid both the Dummies’ and Idiot’s Guides, perhaps more for the fact that I don’t like to view myself as either a Dummy or an Idiot. However, this book is legitimately worth purchasing, especially if you have questions about the traditional book publishing process and how to navigate it. Whether you’re wondering how to write a non-fiction book pitch or have a novel finished and want to know how (or if you should bother) to get an agent, this book’s got logical answers. There’s also a CD-ROM full of helpful documents and templates that you can use to craft your own queries, pitches and proposals. A great practical reference manual for the business side of writing.

Got any books you turn to for writing, publishing or promotional advice?