5 Books on Writing That Every Writer Should Read
To be a better writer, there are really only things that you need to do: Read, and write. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t read about being a writer, and that having a well-rounded understanding of how writing “works” isn’t beneficial.
These 5 books were all assigned to me as a creative writing undergrad, and all have pieces of wisdom in them that have etched themselves so thoroughly into my consciousness that I feel like they’re all floating over my head while I’m writing.
While there are loads of other great books on writing, I specifically chose these because they aren’t all just saying “here’s how I write, you should do it too”—the topics of these books are very diverse!
- Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose: Like I said, the best thing you can do to be a better writer is read. But what does that mean? What should you read? Francine Prose (yes, that is her real last name, if you can even believe it!) helps you answer those questions, and shows how looking for certain things while you read and reread can strengthen your own writing. Check it! (Addendum 9/22/14: I saw her speak at the BKBF yesterday and she is SO COOL.)
- On Writing by Stephen King: This is the one book on my list that is saying “here’s how I write, you should too”. But Stephen King is basically the most prolific writer ever, so I was happy to listen to his advice. Two points of his really stuck with me: 1. Adverbs are lazy and 2. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a story is put it down for a long time—like, 6 months or a year—and come back to it with eyes so fresh that it’s like you’re editing someone else’s story. I’d be interested to know what points of his sticks with you guys!
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: I posted about this the other day, but this book is like my writing Bible. In fact, a friend of mine who doesn’t even write got to reading it, and he loved it, too. Basically if you’re a human with a goal, this book will help you. And Anne Lamott writes kinda like this wise, kind mother who isn’t afraid to also tell you what’s up. Whereas a lot of other books on writing are about the actual storytelling, I like this book because it’s more about the writer’s “lifestyle”. Go get it now so that we can gush together!
- The Philosophy of Composition by Edgar Allan Poe: This is actually just an essay, but considering that Poe is often credited with being the inventor of the modern short story, I had to include it on this list. It’s in this essay that Poe famously defined a short story as one that can be told in one sitting. Whereas King’s On Writing is really “zoomed in” on topics like word choice, this essay is a high level, theoretical piece on what a story actually is. You can get it for 99 cents on Kindle, or, even better, read it as part of a collection of all of his stories… ugh, they’re SO good!!!
- Elements of Style by Strunk & White: I cannot tell you how often I’ve received this little book as a gift—for high school graduation, for college graduation, and for many Christmases and birthdays. But it’s all good because it is kinda essential for a writer to have. Elements of Style is all about—gasp!—grammar. (I should probably give it a read-through again so that I can re-center and remember my grammatical skillz, actually!) Also, there are some cute versions out now that make it seem less snore-fest-y—I really want this illustrated copy!
If you read any of these books and post quotes from them on your Tumblr, tag them #yeahwritingbooks and I’ll reblog you!
Math and Science Week! (for my fellow ‘nerds’)
So maybe you’re a writer or maybe you’re in a fantasy RP group, maybe you just want to make maps. Either way, with the right guidance the process is pretty easy. Here’s some Photoshop and research resources I’ve compiled to make your life easier.WORLD MAPS
How to generate a map in Photoshop (video)
How to create (mountain) brushes (video)
How to create trees (video)
How to create mountains and hills (video)
How to create swamps and deserts (video)
Tolkien-Style Map Brushes (1)(2)
Parchment Textures (1)(2)(3)
Calthyechild’s Fantasy Map Tutorial & Resources
World Maps to inspire you (1)(2)(3)(4)
City Map Generator
Clevergirlhelps’ Brilliant Post on City Planning
Thewritingcafe’s Brilliant Post on City Planning
Streets VS Monuments
How to create a grid in Photoshop
Cities to inspire you (1)(2)(3)(4)
How Geography Affects Climate
How Streets Evolve as Cities Grow
History of Building Materials
R. Steves’ Europe (Videos)
NEED A NAME?
Location and Setting name generator
Pirate Ship name generator
Ship name generator
How It’s Said (substitutes)
In a happy way: laughed, rejoiced, giggled, joked, lilted, sang out.
In a sad way: cried, agonised, bawled, blubbered, lamented, sobbed, groaned, snivelled, wept, mourned.
In a bossy way: insisted, bossed, demanded, preached, dictated, professed, ordered.
In an angry way: raged, miffed, seethed, fumed, retorted, thundered, blurted.
In a pained way: barked, cried out, cried, screamed, jabbered, bellowed, groaned, howled, shrieked, roared, grieved, wailed, yelped.
In a frightened way: quaked, stammered, shuddered, quivered, trembled.
In an understanding way: empathised, accepted, consoled, crooned, comforted, sympathised, agreed.
In a tired way: mumbled, struggled, emitted, wearied.
In a begging way: beseeched, begged, implored, pleaded, entreated, appealed to.
In a mocking way: mocked, ridiculed, derided, hooted, japed, insulted, jeered, parodied, taunted, teased, chaffed, flouted, degraded, sneered, disdained, jibed, gibed, disparaged, belittled, decried, flouted, fleered, leered, scoffed, sniggered, swiped, scorned, repudiated, lampooned.
In a seductive way: purred, simpered, coaxed, wheedled, persuaded, baited.
As an answer: As an answer: responded, retorted, replied, rejoined, answered, acknowledged.
Writing with Color: Description Guide - Words for Skin Tone
We discussed the issue of describing People of Color by means of food in Part I of this guide, which brought rise to even more questions, mostly along the lines of “So, if food’s not an option, what can I use?” Well, I was just getting to that!
This final portion focuses on describing skin tone, with photo and passage examples provided throughout. I hope to cover everything from the use of straight-forward description to the more creatively-inclined, keeping in mind the questions we’ve received on this topic.
So let’s get to it.
S T A N D A R D D E S C R I P T I O N
B a s i c C o l o r s
Pictured above: Black, Brown, Beige, White, Pink.
"She had brown skin.”
- This is a perfectly fine description that, while not providing the most detail, works well and will never become cliché.
- Describing characters’ skin as simply brown or beige works on its own, though it’s not particularly telling just from the range in brown alone.
C o m p l e x C o l o r s
These are more rarely used words that actually “mean” their color. Some of these have multiple meanings, so you’ll want to look into those to determine what other associations a word might have.
Ok here is a compilation of all the software and useful tools I’ve come across whilst writing. Some of them I’ve reviewed on here already, more coming soon.
Got an idea? Well get planning! Here’s some useful outlining, brainstorming and mind- mapping software:
- Tree Sheets
- Visual Understanding Environment (VUE)
- Oak Outliner
- Work Flowy
- The Outliner of Giants
Just want to get writing? You want a word processor:
- Google Docs
- Microsoft Word
- My Writing Spot
- Open Office
Making notes? Here you go:
Timelines giving you a headache? Try these:
Now perhaps you want to organise those notes. Got a lot of research? Character sheets? Images? Well here’s some tools to keep all that together:
Are you easily distracted? The following tools will keep you on track:
Even more productivity tools to help keep you focussed on your task:
- Cold Turkey
- Productivity Owl
- Simple Blocker
- Strict Workflow
- Time Doctor
- Waste No Time
- Website Blocker
So you’ve got something down? Need to edit?
All done? Perhaps you’d like some e-publishing tools:
- Mobipocket Creator
I’m feeling generous, have some more cool stuff:
Enjoy! I may update the list as I find more, or I’ll make a second list.
- Leftover inconveniences (braces, casts, etc.)
- Renewable energy
- Creative attempts at fuel
- Increased infant mortality
- Change in hierarchy (laborers more important than white-collar workers, etc.)
- New governmental structures
- Mercenary groups
- Formation of new states
- Formation of non-state groups
- Regrowth of land
- Lack of food security
- Reduction in gun usage (as ammunition runs out)
- Decrease in age of pregnancy and/or marriage (as life expectancy decreases)
- Direct effects of the apocalyptic event
- Increased multi-generational homes (as building houses becomes difficult again)
- Increased multi-family homes
- Attempts at sophisticated surgery with rudimentary tools
- Reduction in birth control
- General reduction in technology that requires sophisticated manufacturing
- Simple food
- Handmade clothing
- Clothing from animal products
- Houses built for natural lighting
- Attempted—and failed—swift adjustments to lack of technology
- Changes in views of morality
- Different types of law enforcement
- Changes in religion
- Attempted attachment to old societies
- Deliberate breakaways from old societies
- Attempts to cling on to old ideas of beauty despite changes in available beauty products
- Reduction in hygiene
- Increase in water-borne illnesses and parasites
- Lack of clean water
- Reduction in luxury goods
- Increase in homelessness
- Lack of communication capabilities
- Return to radio
- Lack of light pollution
- Attempted school systems
- Return to apprenticeship-style teaching
- Return to agricultural-style living
- Dealing with environmental fallout from apocalyptic event
- Dealing with environmental fallout from previous generations