Saturday, October 08, 2011

My Top Ten Most-Helpful Writer Resource Books

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When I decided I wanted to seriously write with the goal of getting published someday, I was not exactly at a point where I could drop everything and get an MFA.  My parents have always been great role models of studying on your own, so I began borrowing books from the library on writing, bought several other books, read writing magazines, and joined forums and writing groups.  
Throughout my quest for education, I encountered people who held the opinion that all a person needs to do to learn to write is just write.  That may work for some people, but for me, I needed a road map to guide me.  I needed to know what I should be looking for, at least in the beginning.  Once I understood the basics, I knew I would be able to allow intuition to move me along, but first I needed the basics.
On the different forums and groups I belong to, I have noticed other beginning writers engaged in their own search for education regarding the craft of writing, and asking for resource lists.  As I have read an awful lot of how-to books, I thought I might share my own list of what I consider the most helpful.  Here they are--pulled from my bookshelves--my top ten favorite how-to books.
General Writing Information

English Grammar Workbook for Dummies by Geraldine Woods:  Who doesn’t need help with grammar?  This book has all kinds of exercises that are a great refresher, plus a quick reference card.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card:  This book is the best handbook on writing, no matter which genre you write.  It covers all the basics of writing, from idea construction to publishing information.

What Would Your Character Do? By Eric Maisel, Ph.D. and Ann Maisel:  Of all the books on character development I read, this was the most hands on with developing character and backstory. 

Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham:  This book took the mystery out of structure, and gave me concrete methods of developing scenes that go somewhere in a story.  Definitely a great book to read early on in the educational process.

Hooked by Les Edgerton (could also be up at General Writing Information): I bought this to learn how to write a compelling beginning, and wound up learning a lot about structuring a book/story.  He’s also very motivational.

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell: I love James Scott Bell!  He’s not afraid to outline!  He is my book mentor! (okay, I know, enough with the exclamation points…)

The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maas:  Wisdom regarding taking a story to the next level.  I will be using this book when I get into edits on my novel. 

The Writer’s Book of Wisdom by Steven Taylor Goldsberry:  Short essays of writerly wisdom

Take Ten for Writers by Bonnie Neubauer: Puts fun in writing and coming up with ideas.  Encourages silencing the inner editor and just writing!

There it is, my list of “go-to” books.  There are others, of course, but these are the ones I think of first if people ask me what has been helpful for me.   

Wait… There’s only nine listed?  

Oh yeah, number ten falls in the Motivational category.  It’s Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life by Terry Brooks.  I loved this book because it was another writer who believes in the power of outlining.  I was feeling like a writerly weirdo, and this book helped me realize the writing process is different for everyone, and whatever your process is, it’s the right one. 

What resources have you found helpful along your writer’s journey?


  1. Great list of resources, thanks for sharing! I think it's a good thing to feel like a "writerly weirdo," because then at least you know that you're not doing what everyone else doing.

    My favourite resource is to READ, READ, READ, especially short stories. I occasionally look at a thesaurus, but crossword puzzles and other word games are great sources to enrich language. The book "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" is the most enjoyable work on grammar that I know of.

  2. You're absolutely right, Lori, about reading as a great resource. After I figured out those basics of craft, I could then understand what the author did that I liked so much, and it wasn't such a mystery. In some ways, some of the magic was gone, but now I get just as big a sense of awe at the mastery of storytelling or word use!

  3. I LOVE James Scott Bell! and yes, Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy is AMAZING, as is Character and Viewpoint by the same author.

    A couple other faves of mine:

    The Art of War for Writers: by James Scott Bell (!!!)

    Writing Picture Books: by Anne Whitford Paul

    The Giblin Guide to Writing Children's Books: by James Cross Giblin

    Revision and Self-editing: by James Scott Bell (!!!)

    The Writer's Complete Fantasy Writers: by the editors of Writer's Digest

    The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: by Diana Wynne Jones (LOL!!)

  4. Thanks for sharing your list, Cat. There are several in there that I'm going to have to check out. I wanted to add Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell in my list, because I plan on reading/using it when I get to revisions, but since I had to limit to ten I didn't, so I'm glad you did!

  5. If you are writing a memoir, MEMORY, MUSES, MEMOIR by Deb Everson Borofka. Excellent book for digging deeper into memories - you will be encouraged to remember things you had no idea were still bouncing around in the brain. I also took her class through UCLA - recommend.

  6. Thanks, Karen! I am happy you could address some resources for the memoir folks! Memoir is an area I know nothing about, but I know is very popular. At the Writing the Rockies Conference this summer, a majority of the non-students participants I met wrote memoir, and all had very interesting stories to share.

  7. Hi Lara - I found your blog from Writer Unboxed and wanted to say hello. Like you, I am finding my way through the writing world. I'm currently at work revising my first novel draft. A new discovery I've made in the realm of structure is Martha Alderson aka The Plot Whisperer and her blog
    She has her own You Tube channel that offers free info on how to plot your novel ...very informative.
    Good luck to you!

  8. Welcome, Nancy! It's nice to meet you! Thanks for the link to Martha Alderson. I haven't done much with youtube, but I think there are some great resources on there that I just haven't found yet. I will definitely be checking out her blog, too. Thanks!

  9. Hey Lara, I just found your site and really appreciate all the suggestions for good reads. I just finished my anthropomorphic children's book and found June Casagrande's grammer book It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences. Invaluable. I actually read it cover to cover in 2 sessions. She makes it fun,and it reads like a novel..strangest thing. I could not put it down.

    1. Thanks, Bonnie! I'm always on the lookout for new books, and it's looking like grammar is an area in which I could use some help. :P


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