Today's Blog Me MAYbe post has me asking you a question.

Do you use any books on writing craft? If so, which one is your favorite?

I’m assuming I should answer my own question, so here are 3 of my must-haves for writing:

The Elements of Style by Strunk & White -- don’t hate just because you had a horrible experience in middle school with this one. We all had that horrible experience. But I have this theory (that I’m sure a lot of writers have) that you can’t break the rules well until you can follow the rules well. The number one thing that’s made me a better writer is knowing when hard & fast style gives my novel the very best it deserves.

The Writer’s Little Helper by James Smith -- this book has manageable chapters about everything you could possibly want or need to work on with writing; when I’m struggling with a particular little bit of my novel, I can always turn to Smith and he’ll help me out. It should be noted that L.G. recommended this book to me and she asked numerous times over several years if I'd bit the bullet to buy it. When I did, I realized I'd been stingy and stupid for years. Fortunately for YOU, they now sell a paperback copy.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott -- this isn’t a how-to guide or helpful tips & tricks. This is a book that reminds me why I write, why I care about fictional lives and places, and why I think others should care about those things, too. When I’m feeling really low about my writing, I turn to Lamott, and she picks me back up. She can keep me going when I don’t want to anymore.

I'm also a really big fan of "On Writing" books, especially Stephen King's and Jorge Luis Borges's; and I've heard excellent things about Eudora Welty's.

So really, what books have made you a better writer or do you have on your shelf to keep you going through the dark funks that inevitably haunt all writers? 

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  1. I have the Elements of Style. Love it cause it's short! I've got On Writing too, but haven't started that yet.

  2. Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
    Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
    Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
    Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
    Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris

    I confess I felt On Writing by Stephen King was more like a memoir sort of book than a craft one.
    Also, Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass didn't do it for me. Read the whole thing, but it wasn't nearly as good as I thought it would be.

    And I recommend this link by Roni Loren:
    She points out problems writers face and the craft book perfect to solve it ;)

  3. Great question, B! I'm so new at this that don't have many yet but my writing "bible" is Fiction Writing for Dummies. It help me learn how to right a novel in 3 weeks. The other is a tag book called The Romance Writers Phrase Book. I just got that one recommended by Jaycee and its my go to guild for creative tags. :D

  4. Ah The Writers Little Helper. We've had fun with that book. I think we have gifted each other with each of our favorites over the year.
    I also love Scenes...I can't remember the author though but I will come back later today with a link. I think I gave you this one, Bailey.
    Thanks for the recommendation, Juliana.

  5. I love:

    Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami Cowden, Sue Viders, and Caro LaFever. It breaks down the characters by jobs, personalities, etc., and even has section that shows how (hero and heroine) they clash, they mesh, and what brings them together.

    It's great. Victoria listed the other one I usually have on me...the book I love to hate, hate to love, and have been using for 14 years.

  6. I loved Hooked by Les Edgerton. It's so great on focusing on what's important in a novel.

  7. @Suzi Oh good re: EoS -- too many people seem to remember it from younger days of comp. classes and shun it. But it's a really helpful little book! And SK's "On Writing" is a book I enjoy, but as Juliana's notes just below it IS a memoir -- but a good one, I think.

  8. @Juliana Haygert I either own or have skimmed the first 3 you list, haven't heard of the last 2 -- so I'll definitely be looking those up in a moment.

    King's "On Writing" is a memoir -- but it's a memoir I enjoy.

    And I will check out that link, too! Thanks Juliana!

  9. @twentysomethingfictionwriter Those "Dummies" books are super helpful -- I've skimmed them for other things and always found my answers, so now I'm wondering why I haven't considering the writing one.

    I haven't heard of this other books because I don't write romance, but I think it's good to find great books that focus more narrowly on a genre. I've been considering getting some romance-related writing books because my current WIP has a strong secondary romantic arc that I have no idea how to flesh out.

  10. @lgkelso You did give me Scenes, something I plan to pull out later this month / summer. I have Smith's book ("you know, that hard cover green & white book?" ha!) out this morning as I do my 10-scene outline for the 12th time.
    I believe I've gifted you Bird by Bird, and that other red book that looks like Scenes but is writing prompts -- I use those frequently to get into scenes I'm stuck on or just get into writing on a day when I'm not feeling it.
    P.S. I think I'm going to run out of craft books to gift you! We pretty much share the same library now, I think.

  11. @Jaycee DeLorenzo That sounds like a fantastic book! I'll have to check it out -- I have a similar archetype book, but it's just for all sorts of archetypes and not really Heroes and Heroines specifically. It does have some things about archetypes in main roles and secondary roles, though, that I've found helpful over the years.

    Do you have any other recommendations for romance writing help books? Please see my comment-reply to Victoria's comment as to why so I don't repeat myself. :)

  12. @Cherie Reich I don't think I've heard of this -- am going to check it out now!

  13. @bailey m kelsey
    Yes, I know On Writing is a memoir, and, as a memoir, it was a good one, but people often speak of it as solely a craft book. As a craft book, I didn't think it was that helpful.
    The thing I enjoyed in it was to get to know Stephen King, how he grow up, how he became a writer, his writing process, how his accident impacted his life, ...
    But we're getting out of the topic here =P
    Back to the craft books! ;)

  14. @Juliana HaygertI'm just gonna keep going here...

    I read "On Writing" when I was really young -- 14, I think -- and it was the first book about writing as a craft that I ever read. But I see it as a memoir of writing as a craft and a memoir of being a writer, not so much a craft book, and there are things I took away from it still. But it was the first book I read when I said, "I'm going to be a writer" and then wondered how on earth to go about doing that.

  15. I've always preferred a more organic approach to writing, instead of doing something exactly by someone else's rules, but I did enjoy some of the books my high school Creative Writing Club used. One of the books we most frequently used for discussion and freewrites was Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones.

  16. Thanks for the recommendations! I love Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King for good writing style and Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Mass for good plotting.

  17. Ditto what Sharon said. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is fantastic. :D

  18. I especially like: "How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide" by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. This one is not only a hilarious read, but it will also help you reflect on the main aspects of your novel: the plot, the characters, the setting.
    Also: "Self-editing for fiction writers" by Browne and King.It helps you see the mistakes you have made regarding style, dialogue, points of view, beats, proportion and repetitions.
    Hoping this helps! Happy writing!

  19. I've read Bird by Bird so many times! Love it.

    I also have one about poetry writing: Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual. It's fantastic!

  20. @Sharon and Carrie and emcastellan -- I've perused that one on the shelf and contemplated purchasing it, so now I think I will! I'm glad to see positive reviews of it.

    @Dana -- I will have to look up Kooser's book because I really do like writing poetry.

  21. Hey NA Alley writers! You probably know about this already, but I thought I'd share a contest I just came across: It's an editor judged contest for a potential publishing deal with Curiosity Quills Press. The contest is open to unpublished manuscripts in the categories of New Adult / Upper YA (protags in late teens, early 20′s) and Young Adult (protags in mid-to-late teens).

  22. @Rachel Morgan

    Thanks so much, Rachel! We'll make an announcement soon to our readers :D

  23. Great recommendations, Bailey! The best book I ever read about writing was 'Clarity: A Text on Writing,' by James P. White and Janice White.


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