04 January, 2012

Insecure Writer's Support Group: Learning To Write

The Insecure Writer's Support Group is hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Be sure to check out his blog if you haven't already!

One of my 2012 goals was to improve how I well I write.

As I mentioned in that post, I've never read a book on writing itself--well, except for Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly and that was ages ago so I don't remember much of it.

Besides that forgotten book, the only thing I've read on writing is other blog posts; and lots and lots of fiction, if that qualifies. (I think it does; at least by reading the good and the bad you learn what works and what does not.)

And not to discount the great resource which is the blogosphere--there are some excellent posts on writing out there--I do think I could benefit from reading something formal on the subject that goes through all the details.

Do you have any suggestions on books about writing? Favorites, dislikes? And besides books, what other resources do you turn to?

-----The Golden Eagle


Deborah Walker said...

I thought, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass was very interesting. I still haven't digested all the advice in it.

And I would recommend Oron ScottCard's, Character and Viewpoint

farawayeyes said...

'Elements of Fiction Writing' by Orson Scott Card. It read more like a novel than a textbook.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I really got a lot out of Save The Cat, even though it's a book on screenwriting. There are some really excellent tips and checklists for a novel writer.

Emma said...

There are so many resources out there - in just about any format you choose. It is hard to know what is good and what is not.

The "Warrior Writer" brigade are very popular and active (under Bob Meyer's wing) and have blogs about writing, books and indeed online and 'live' seminars and workshops. they will send you pages of information on email etc.


If you want a very basic starter's book about plot, characters, story arcs, style, etc try "Write a Novel and Get It Published: A Teach Yourself Guide (Teach Yourself: Writing)" - I found previous editions of this great for a clear and simple approach - its not too puffed up and deals with the basic issues. Its on amazon here:


Best of luck and look forward to seeing your novel in the near future!

Pat Hatt said...

I find reading and watching a lot of books/movies helps me more than any book ever does. Not to say their bad, I just find for me it works way better that way, even if they are crap because it shows me how to avoid crap.

Clarissa Draper said...

My favorite is for mystery novels so it doesn't really apply. However, it's called Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron. Also, Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card was really good too.

T.D. McFrost said...

I think reading is vital to becoming a better writer. And individual. Analyzing what works and what doesn't in published works can elevate your craft.

I also think you need to know when to apply craft and when to just "let it flow." An agent once told me that so many writers write based on the system and their work becomes almost robotic--rusty, even.

For now, the internet is the best place to learn about writing. You just can't beat the indispensable knowledge out there. Plus it's free! ^_^

Anne K. Albert said...

My three favs are: On Writing by Stephen King, Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain, and Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon. Happy reading, and happy writing!

Rachel Morgan said...

I've only read two: "The First Five Pages", by Noah Lukeman, and "The Story Book", by David Baboulene. I've found both to be very useful.

From the comments, it looks like Orson Scott Card has helped out quite a lot of people!

Summer Ross said...

I enjoyed 'On Writing' by Stephen King. I'm still searching for a book that really helps with my fiction though.

Cherie Reich said...

I plan to read more writing books this year too! I've read a few passages here and there, but I've mainly gotten my information from blogs and by reading fiction.

I think the first one I'm going to start with is Stephen King's ON WRITING.

Cassie Mae said...

That's a great goal! I think I'm going to join you (well, making it an official goal) I'm always on the look out to improve my writing.

I was going to mention some books, but they've already been mentioned, lol. :)

M.J. Fifield said...

My favorite books on writing are Stephen King's "On Writing" and Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird"

Both had huge impacts on the way I write.

Jay Noel said...

Invisible Ink, by Brian McDonald. This guy has worked with Pixar, George Lucas, and Disney.

He goes to the heart of why we write - storytelling. It's an awesome book.

Misha Gericke said...

If you're going to read a writing book, I have two suggestions:

1) On Writing by Stephen King and
2) The Right to Write by Julia Cameron.

I hope you enjoy the books and that you'll share the lessons you've learnt. :-)

Jacqueline Howett said...

I think reading various authors help, but mostly I learn more from various blogs. Its quicker. So many blogs can be also googled. Just make sure you stick them in your favorites.

The writers Alley is a good start to find links.

ali cross said...

Oh wow. That's a great question! The best resource for me has been reading (and I don't know anyone who reads more than you do!) and attending writers conferences. But as for books (I haven't read many either), my very most favorite is SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. Then I like STORY & STRUCTURE (I think that's Orson Scot Card?).

I trust you'll tell US when you find a good one!

L.G.Smith said...

I think Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass are great.

laughingwolf said...

ge, i'm surprised you forgot to mention charles gramlich's writers' guide, you know who he is!


mshatch said...

Here are a few others I've found helpful: SIN & SYNTAX by Constance Hale, WRITING FICTION by Janet Burroway, and BY CUNNING & CRAFT by Peter Selgin. Oh, and WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Natalie Goldberg. Happy reading :)

Elana Johnson said...

I am not one to talk about books that talk about writing. But my favorite is SAVE THE CAT, which is really just a screenwriting book.

It helps me organize my scenes and my plotline so that I know I have all the bases covered.

Other than that, I trust my gut.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I love Stephen King's On Writing. I have heard that Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is also good but I haven't got there yet. The other source I have learned so much from is a Writer's Digest subscription. Good luck with your work!

Old Kitty said...

I hope you find the write book(s) for you lovely Eagle! I think so long as you have your trusted Thesaurus and a good Dictionary, you're on your way! Take care

Susan Kane said...

I think you have received super suggestions in the responses here! Beyond that, writing and writing is the best way to move along in your development as a writer.

Colin Smith said...

ON WRITING by Stephen King is a *must* (IMO, of course). Donald Maas's book THE BREAKOUT NOVELIST is helpful--lots of good information and tips.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

BIRD BY BIRD, by Anne LaMott

M Pax said...

I really liked Jack Bickham's "Scene and Structure" and Dwight Swain's "Techniques of the Selling Writer". I found them both helpful in my growth. Then as you said, reading blogs and attending the ocassional workshop.

Krispy said...

The only writing book I've read is Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel and I liked it. Some of it felt common sense-like, but it was good to see it articulated in a very straight forward way.

I've also heard Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is good, but I haven't read it. My friend bought it for me last year.

Charles Gramlich said...

I tell folks all the time that if you can keep getting better you'll get there. Tis the key, I think.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Last year I read a couple books on screenwriting which were quite helpful. I needed to focus on plot.

julie fedderson said...

I think reading others' work is one of the best manuals you can have.

Southpaw said...

There's a lot of good ones here, some I'm still reading myself. Finding one that appeals to you is hard though. Many say the same thing just differently.

Kathleen Doyle said...

There are some great books listed in the comments so far, many of them on my wish list. One I haven't seen that I found useful is Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I found it to be easy to read and understand. Then, there is always The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. I've heard a lot of writers say they build their stories based on what they learn from it. I have yet to read it, but it is on my nightstand.

Trisha said...

I'm with you on having not read many books on the writing craft (I think i've read one...). But I hear ON WRITING by Stephen King mentioned all the time. I have it on my TBR shelf but still haven't started.

Hannah Kincade said...

Writing Down the Bones is fantastic. As is On Writing. And another one of my faves is, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit.

Jules said...

Do you ever wonder what the greats did? I mean they had no writing manuals or a blogosphere. But if you find any, share the wealth. :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Nancy Thompson said...


Writing the Breakout Novel
by literary agent Donald Maass

The Fire in Fiction
also by Donald Maass

Plot & Structure
by James Scott Bell

On Writing
by Steven King

Read them all! They're fantastic!

Anonymous said...

So many great books suggested...I'm noting down some myself... the one book that always sticks in my mind is stephen king's On Writing... I have it on my desk and will occasionally put it out to read:)

Angela Ackerman said...

People have named a ton of great books. I loved SK's On Writing, Save the Cat, Writing Screenplays That Sell, Description by Monica Wood, Writing the Breakout Novel, and. Revision for Fiction Writers. You can't go wrong with any of these!

Hope you had a fantastic holiday!

Angela @The Bookshelf Muse

DWei said...

I tend to find online resources to be the most helpful. Getting critique from online communities however is inconsistent.

E.D. said...

I think reading (almost anything) with an eye to structure is key. As for books on writing, there are so many great ones, including Elements of Fiction Writing.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Golden,

Happy New Year!

Like you, I rely on bloggers posts and reading a lot of different fiction.

I have heard many good things about ELEMENTS OF FICTION, but I haven't read it yet. I plan to the first chance I get.

K.D.Storm said...

One of the books I have read that has been very helpful to me has been the book "ON Writing" by Stephen King.

Stuart Nager said...

As the others, "On Writing" by King...and check out Nancy Kress. She has a few excellent books on writing.

Cate Masters said...

Wow, where to start? My bookshelf's crammed with them. One of the most practically useful was David Michael Kaplan's Revision: A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction.
Thanks for the great question! Lots of great resources in the responses.

Mark Noce said...

I think that every book teaches us how to write. If you want to learn from the best, read Shakespeare or Dumas or Woolf or anyone you like. Each read is like a lesson and a journey all packed into one.

Inger said...

How great that you asked and got such a wonderful response. I love to blog, but I'm not a writer. If there had been computers when I was young, I probably would have worked toward becoming one. It's just so much fun now. I hated typewriters and can't write by hand -- imagine Shakespeare and all the rest with their quill pens. I guess they had the real thing going on. Reading a wide variety of books in a language not my own has helped me express myself both verbally and in writing. Happy New Year and all the best to you, dear Eagle.

Margo Kelly said...

I love reading books about the craft of writing and have several favorites:

THE STORY BOOK by Baboulene

Beth said...

Right now I'm loving Anatomy of Story. Others I've loved -- Writing the Breakout Novel, Bird by Bird and The Writer's Journey.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, Randy Ingermanson is hands down one of my favorite experts when it comes to writing. He's quite the quirky geek. His website is really good - http://advancedfictionwriting.com/ As well is his book Writing Fiction for Dummies. Good luck on your quest to learn. ;)

Sarah Pearson said...

I'm getting a list together myself for this year, I'm going to pinch a few of your readers suggestions :-)

Anonymous said...

Reading novels, reading blog posts, writing steadily, attending conferences, and being in a critique group is my education. I haven't read a resource book in a long time, but I do own a few that I'd like to read.

Cally Jackson said...

Wow so many suggestions! I think you've got enough here to last a lifetime. I'll revisit this post next time I'm looking for a good writing book! :-)

Madeleine Maddocks said...

I've read loads of how to books and added some to my Bookshelf blog tab at http://www.scribbleandedit.blogspot.com/p/how-to-brilliance.html

But I confess that I only began to really learn what it all meant when I began blogging and entering challenges because the comments, feedback, experience and challenge of writing those pieces have taught me so much in such a short space of time. Like you the advice of others has been invaluable, their trials and tribulations, methods and vices. Great post.

Jemi Fraser said...

Stephen King's book is my fave :)

The Golden Eagle said...

Deborah: I've heard of Donald Maass's work before; I've noticed several other bloggers mention in posts.

Farawayeyes: Looks like I'll have to check out Card's non-fiction. :) Two people in a row suggesting it!

Alex: I want to try writing a screenplay sometime. I've never attempted on before . . .

Emma: Really? I will have to check that out; it sounds like a good resource for writing.

Thank you!

I'll do my best to get it on the shelf so you can read it--starting with the suggestions here. ;)

Pat: True!

Clarissa: Thanks for the suggestion; I don't write Mystery (though I've tried in the past--it never worked out well) but someone else might find that handy!

T.D.: Again, the question returns: when to break the rules and when to stand by them. It can certainly be hard to tell when something works and when it doesn't . . .

You can't beat free. :)

Anne: Thanks for the suggestions!

I've seen Stephen King's novel On Writing mentioned in a ton of places; it must be a good resource!

Rachel: The first five pages of my novel could certainly use some work, so I'll have to check that out!

Indeed. He's certainly going onto my TBR list . . .

Summer: Good luck!

Maybe you'll find something good here in the comments?

Cherie: I've heard a lot about that one. And King is awfully popular--he must know how to do it right.

Cassie: Thank you!

Welcome aboard--we can work on our craft together! :)

M.J.: I've read some good reviews of Bird by Bird, and I like the sound of it. Definitely on my list of books to read.

Jay: Those are certainly famous names! Never heard of the book before, but I'll check it out.

Misha: Thanks!

Hmm. I'll have to do that; I'm happy to share what I learn with the rest of the blogosphere. :)

Jacqueline: By salarsen? I follow that site! :)

Ali: Card and Snyder seem to be favorites here!


L.G.: Both by Donald Maass, I note. He must know what he's talking about.

Laughingwolf: Oh, yes--can't forget that one!

Thanks for the link to it. :)

Mshatch: More titles to remember; and those are some interesting titles, I have to say!

Elana: Thanks for the recommendation; and you do have a point. Sometimes a feeling you can't put your finger on exactly can be a lot more accurate than a book on the craft.

The Golden Eagle said...

Tasha: I love Ray Bradbury; I didn't remember he wrote a book on writing, though!

Thank you!

Old Kitty: Nothing beats a dictionary and thesaurus. :)

Susan: There are plenty of books to look into, certainly!

I agree. You can read about it, but that is a far cry from actually doing it.

Colin: Those are two that many other people have mentioned, so I guess they must be good! :)

Jennifer: Thanks for the recommendation!

M: The authors are unfamiliar to me, as are the titles; they sound like really good books, though.

I've never attended a writers' workshop, but I can see how they would be a great resource!

Krispy: Those are definitely on my list!

Charles: I agree; you can't be published if you haven't written anything.

And do feel free to mention your own book, if you want, since I know you've written on the subject of writing. :) Though Laughingwolf already linked to it above!

Carolyn: I need to work on my plot, too. I consider a strong point (well, as strong as it gets when it comes to my writing) but it could also do with improvement . . .

Julie: They are the ones who got published, after all!

Southpaw: And the way something is said can have a lot of impact.

Kathleen: I watched The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell last year; he does make some interesting points about stories.

Trisha: Well, you're ahead of me, then, because I've read zero. :P

Hannah: LOL. That's some title!

Jules: I guess they must have had some interesting life experiences or really good teachers . . .

I will!

Nancy: Thanks for the list! :)

The Golden Eagle said...

Tfwalsh: It sounds like a great book for references; those are always handy to have around.

Angela: My TBR list is getting long. :)

Thanks! Happy New Year!

DWei: I've never tried getting a critique; I don't really have anything to show, and that inconsistency makes me nervous to try.

E.D.: I've been paying more attention to the structure of the novels I read these days; it's quite helpful, although sometimes I wish I could just sit back and lose myself in a book the way I used to. LOL.

Michael: Happy New Year to you, too! :)

A lot of people here have suggested that book. It's on my list now!

K.D.: That book seems to be quite popular!

Stuart: I haven't read anything by Nancy Kress, though I've heard of her--thanks for the suggestion!

Cate: Rewriting? That sounds like something I need. I'm in the midst of them right now.

I hope you find them useful. :)

Mark: Good point. Books are a lesson in themselves!

Inger: They must have; I do all my writing on a computer nowadays, and relatively little in longhand.

Happy New Year! :)

Margo: Thanks for sharing them!

Beth: It sounds like a thorough book. There are a lot of parts to a story!

Madeline: I've visited his site; I keep meaning to go back and look through it!

Sarah: Feel free--I hope they come in handy!

Medeia: Sounds like a system that works. :)

Cally: Yup . . . or at least until next year. LOL.

I hope you find a good book for you!

Madeleine: Thanks for the link to your post. :)

Me, too. I was writing before I started blogging, but it wasn't until that I was a few months into it that I found writing blogs, and then all the resources online.

Thank you!

Jemi: It seems to be a great book, from all the comments recommending it. :)

Emily R. King said...

Wow, where to begin? The books on writing are endless, but my favorite books are the classics. Sometimes I get more out of reading Huckleberry Finn than reading a book about how to write Huckleberry Finn.

Michael Offutt, Visitor from the Future said...

I rather like Moody Writing's tips (by Mooderino). I have no idea if Moody is a he or a she. So I'll just say "they" know writing and seem to post good observations.

Other than that, I think that writing is one of those things that benefits well from osmosis. In other words, you want to read as much as possible the kind of books you want to write.

Rusty Webb said...

Stephen King's On Writing is essential. It's half autobiography and half writing tips. It's more about focusing on the motivation to write than on the craft though... I still think you gotta read it.

Getting the Words Right, was a great, great read for me. That breaks down your prose at the sentence level and doesn't spend much time at all on plotting, characters, or anything like that. Still, it gets you thinking about how a subtly reworded sentence can change everything. I highly recommend it.

I read a series of books a few years ago that each were dedicated to a single topic, like plot, dialog, characterization, and I loved them all. I can't recall the name of the series off the top of my head though. If you really are interested let me know and I'll go find them downstairs.

I don't know if you follow mooderino or not, but her tips are wonderful. Every time I stop by her blog I'm floored by the insight into the craft I find there. Highly recommended.

Good luck

Milo James Fowler said...

I'm reading SPUNK AND BITE right now, and it's great. So is King's ON WRITING.

Mark said...

I'm in the middle of trying to write myself. I have two major problems with my writing, one is that I see everything perfectly in my head, but I can't transfer it to paper. Or I won't because I'm already seeing it. But the readers cannot see what I can see, I have to write down everything that's in my head, no matter how tedious, I have to set the scene properly. My other problem is conversations. I'm not very confident in my ability to write one. I know you start a new line whenever someone says something new, but what about when someone does something? If a person physically reacts to something someone said, or you comment on what they're thinking, does that deserve a new line? Does a change in action deserve a line like a change in speaker? I probably should have looked all this up before attempting to write. It's also fun that for all the reading I've done, I haven't really learned anything about writing.

Shelley said...

I've never really read any text about writing itself, but if I were to, I supposed I'd just use the internet! You can find anything, even ebooks! :)

Carol Kilgore said...

I agree with books others have mentioned. Michael Hauge also has a couple of good books about writing, too.

CherylAnne Ham said...

Thought I'd add Story Engineering by Larry Brooks to this huge list of awesomeness you've got going on here.

Happy reading. :D

The Golden Eagle said...

E.R.: I need to read more classics; I got through a few of them in 2011, but there are a number of others I'd like to read . . .

Michael: I love the posts at Moody Writing. :) I bookmark a post almost every time I visit!

Rusty: It's definitely on my list!

I like the sound of Getting the Words Right; I'm rereading through the first draft of the novel I'm rewriting, and I can see my sentences need a ton of work.

Nah, you don't have to go find them--nice of you to offer, though!

I do!

Thank you. :)

Milo: Spunk and Bite . . . a play on Strunk and White?

I'll have to look into that book!

Mark: I wonder about that kind of thing, too. Which details are the most important to the reader; what do they want and/or need to know, and what is irrelevant?

Good luck with your writing!

Shelley: Indeed. The internet is great. :)

Carol: I've never heard of him before; I'll have to look into his books!

Cheryl: Thanks! :) You can never have too many books, after all. LOL.