Books on Writing

Oscar Wilde once said, “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

Writing as an art can’t be taught, and even though Creative Writing courses and workshops undoubtedly help writers grow, writing is a solitary process, and it’s up to each individual to reach within the confines of his mind for answers.

Writers are unique to the extent that even if someone would try to replicate the same career a fellow writer had, he would most likely fail to achieve the same success. A lot of factors come to play in this, including luck, and blindly following a writer’s advice is not the most suitable of actions. What worked for him might not work for you. Instead, you should absorb the rules others have used before you and change them according to your own style and needs.

There are no maps to guide you in this journey. All you get are some folks who are more than happy to help you find your way from time to time.

Stephen King – On Writing

“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do—not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.”

Part memoir, part guide for aspiring writers, The King is extremely honest in this book of his. He offers some advice on the technics of writing, but he also underlines the importance of determination and perseverance.

The tools required to write great fiction can’t be borrowed or bought – they have to be acquired through hard work.

Anne Lamott – Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.”

Anne Lamott’s guide on writing is extremely helpful for the struggling writer – the biggest lesson she teaches in her book is that sometimes we fail to write the book we set to write, and often we fail to see the difference between what’s in our head and what’s on paper. Bird by Bird is an honest, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, account of Anne Lammott’s own career. A must read for any aspiring writer.

Ray BradburyZen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. For writing allows just the proper recipes of truth, life, reality as you are able to eat, drink, and digest without hyperventilating and flopping like a dead fish in your bed.”

Ray Bradbury’s legacy is far greater than just the dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451. From reading his novels and short stories I got the impression that, of all the wonderful writers in the world, he loved reading books more than anyone else on the planet. He loved writing them too, no doubt about it, but to me Fahrenheit 451 stands as the ultimate proclamation of love.

Zen in the Art of Writing is a collection of essays and articles on the art of writing from one of the most prolific and successful writers of our time.

John Steinbeck – Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters

“I feel that sometimes when I am writing I am very near to a kind of unconsciousness.  Then time does change its manner and minutes disappear into the cloud of time which is one thing, having only one duration.  I have thought that if we could put off our duration-preoccupied minds, it might be that time has no duration at all.”

Written between January, 29 and October 31, 1951, Journal of a Novel is comprised of a series of letters written by the great novelist to his friend and editor, Pascal Covici. They offer valuable insight into the creative process of one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. They weren’t meant for publication, and maybe that’s why this book is my favorite from this list – great artists are rarely perceived as simple men and not some machines that churn out one brilliant novel after another.

Mario Vargas Llosa – Letters to a Young Novelist

“That is one thing I am sure of amid my many uncertainties regarding the literary vocation: deep inside, a writer feels that writing is the best thing that ever happened to him, or could ever happen to him, because as far as he is concerned, writing is the best possible way of life, never mind the social, political, or financial rewards of what he might achieve through it.”

Novel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa dissects many of the world’s best stories in a an attempt at helping young writers better understand their urge to write. It’s, in a way, the exact opposite of Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s not as much a visceral approach on writing, as it is a sentimental one, in which writing is viewed as the almost obsessive passion that it is. It’s not a guide on writing, it’s a guide on how to understand great literature and those who write it.

William Strunk, E.B. White – The Elements of Style

“Instead of announcing what you are about to tell is interesting, make it so.”

Technically a style guide, this little book has been helping writer for almost a century. If you want to write that perfect sentence, to make it so that no clumsiness can affect your story, this is the perfect book for you.

I once wrote that the world of art is like building a pyramid. Each writer adds one more brick or stone, relying on what others before him built. It’s a sinuous process, and it can lead to many frustrations along the years, but in the end, you’re helping art evolve, you’re changing history one layer at a time, helping mankind grow. But then, in the same story, I changed my mind. Maybe some artist are more like revolutionaries. They stare at what they predecessors built, and regardless of their infinite admiration, they choose to build a new monument, to change the rules of the game according to their own desires; though it’s worth remembering that you can’t change the world unless you know how it works.

Sometimes I think that you don’t become a writer. You are born one. Sometimes I believe in the opposite.

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4 thoughts on “Books on Writing

  1. My writing is a daily struggle as well. Some days I feel extremely motivated and others not so. It’s why I started by daily wordpress blog post. I write something, anything topical. This hopefully aid in my future Screenwriting, playwrights, and books when I am stuck with a block.

  2. The only book on writing I ever read and made sense to me was On Writing by Stephen King…LOVED IT. I have looked at others and put them down quickly. My perception is it could ruin my creative muses. This is also why I’ve never taken a Creative Writing course. What i truely need is a Course on understanding how English works…or should I say the modern terms used today which weren’t used when I was at school. Sharing this. 🙂

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