By Melissa Uhles
When it comes to writing, I’ve had my pen in lots of different pots.
I’ve written novels, short films, plays, blogs, marketing, and web copy. Each time I dive into a new type of writing I try to read a book or two to get some advice. For example, writing a novel is vastly different from writing a screenplay.
And writing informational nonfiction for a small business’s website that is concerned with their SEO also requires a different skill set.
Aren’t we all lucky there is a book on every subject to help us out. Here are my 12 favorites:
This is a terrific modern resource for everyone who writes anything. The idea is that if you are writing social media posts, blogging or penning marketing materials, everyone can learn to write better. There’s a section on grammar and types of materials that marketers write. The way the book is laid out and written makes it a fast and fascinating read. I highly recommend adding it to your library.
I loved this book because it does something almost no-one is brave enough to do. It unmasks the truth about money in a writing career. The only caveat is that most of the writers interviewed in the book write books and there are many other ways to make money writing.
However, it demystifies book advances and royalties. It also reveals the unsurprising truth that many writers have a regular gig that helps pay the bills because writing income can be wildly unpredictable. I particularly enjoyed Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild’s essay on how she handled her first big advance.
The great thing about this book is that the writing is terrific. It reads more like a beautiful work of fiction than a manual on writing. Ms. Lamott shares some of the lessons learned from her own career as well as ideas she's shared with her class as a writing instructor. The chapter about the realities of publishing was my favorite.
This book makes it on a lot of top writing resource lists for a reason. Funnily enough, this is the only book I've read by Stephen King. After reading it the second time, it did make me want to read one of his novels, though horror is not my go-to genre of choice. He weaves bits of memoir into his tips on writing craft. Mr. King is often quoted as saying if you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write. I have to heartily agree with that statement.
There comes a time when the fun of a first draft is done. Then revisions must be conquered. Sometimes as a writer, you know your manuscript needs a makeover but it's hard to know what or how to fix it. This book offers specific advice about how to polish your story to perfection before sending it out. It’s a permanent fixture in my resource library.
Written by an agent who's seen his share of manuscripts, Maas offers advice on structure, plot and characterization that seem to be common in the novels that "break-out." Even if you aren't planning to write a break-out novel, the advice would be helpful to anyone trying to write a compelling book. When I finished reading it, I felt like I could do anything. That feeling faded of course, but it was inspiring.
I’m a big fan of Joanna Penn, especially her podcast. She writes fiction and nonfiction and provides a wealth of information for writers who choose to self-publish. Ms. Penn has several books out on writing but I enjoyed The Successful Author Mindset because it deals with the emotional challenges of choosing writing as a career path. It addresses writer’s block and self-doubt, issues most writers will relate to.
This is a clear step by step guide that will make it easy for a first-time self-publisher to get their book out into the world. While Amazon provides some tutorials, I found having this paperback handier. Everything you might want to know is in one place and easily categorized. While KDP might seem like a breeze, Createspace, in my experience is more challenging. Formatting is the thing that drove me bananas and this book really helped. The author even points out the best fonts to use.
Though the focus of this book is lifestyle blogging, I found the tips to be things that most new bloggers would find helpful. The author shares her own pitfalls to help the reader avoid them. It’s a quick read and a nice cursory overview of areas you should be focussing on when you start or maintain a blog. I would say it’s most appropriate for a relative beginner in the blogging world. More experienced bloggers will already be familiar with what’s presented in her book.
I’m a huge fan of Darren Rowse’s podcast. It’s been a great way for me to learn more about monetizing a blog while I clean the house or do dishes. This book is a good foundation for anyone looking to improve the results they receive from their blogging efforts.
What sets this book apart is that it is written from the perspective of a novelist turning her books into screenplays. It’s enjoyable to read, in part because it’s written by someone who knows how to write a novel so it doesn’t have the dry clinical feel of some nonfiction.
This book had been recommended everywhere I turned and I finally bought a copy. It helps a new screenwriter understand beats and the arc of a story. In my own foray into screenwriting, I have found the information to be helpful despite the fact that I am writing micro-indie films and this is geared toward selling a big script in Hollywood.
The best takeaway, that I think applies to book writing too is to write the one sentence logline telling what the story is before writing the whole script. He recommends telling everyone you run into the log-line and seeing their honest reaction. His theory is that this will help a writer decide if it’s worth the months of pounding out the whole script.
I took his advice to heart with the last short film I wrote. My director friend wanted me to write something for her to shoot and I sent her five one sentence pitches first before writing a whole script. She chose her favorite concept and I wrote a short script around that idea.
What are your favorite books for writers? Feel free to share your recommendations in the comments.