One of the things one learns when one gets serious about writing is that it is like any other profession, minus having to show up for work in a tie and listening to an annoying boss. But it is similar in that if you want to really improve, you are going to have to practice to get better. However, sometimes, practice isn’t enough. There is a theory in psychology called the zone of proximal development that was described by the child psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Basically, there is a level of competency that one can reach just by one’s own independent efforts. Then there is the level one can reach when guided by someone who is already proficient in the skill. Ideally, we’d like to have our favorite authors be our mentors but in reality, that may not be feasible. But don’t worry because there are many books out there can be of immense help in learning to be a better writer. Here are five books that I’ve found to be extremely helpful and that I hope will prove useful for you as well.
1. On Writing by Stephen King
Not only is this a great memoir about Stephen King’s early life and development as a writer, but it is also a down-to-earth and practical guide to writing good fiction. Always the story teller, King uses a direct and conversational approach to describing not only what works for him but also the basic “tool box” of skills you will need to develop as a writer. A personal favorite I regularly refer back to, you will find this to be quite inspiring though his method of not plotting a story before may not be for everyone.
2. The Tao of Writing by Ralph L. Wahalstrom
This is a very useful book, not so much for technique but for developing an outlook. One of the remarkable things this book does is to put the act of writing into a much broader context. It shows how the generativity of writing is connected back to the generativity of living systems and life. A lovely book for getting the big picture. As writers, we are often so mired in words and plot twists that we don’t see how big a part writing plays in our lives. Wahlstrom’s book will make one reassess their passion for writing and, I think, deepen their appreciation for that drive to record and put words down.
3. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
Lerner’s book provides a fantastic source of information for new writers. Both inspirational and practical,The Forest for the Trees is a good piece of writing to refer to in the interest of making yourself attractive to an editor. It is also a humorous and heartfelt look at the different types of writers and writing styles. I highly recommend this book.
4. Hooked:Write Fiction that Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton
The most important part of a story is the beginning. That is the part that will either lose an editor a reader or hook them. So, it is absolutely critical that you learn how to construct a beginning that will get your readers’ attentions from sentence one. Edgerton’s book is a valuable guide to doing just that! Using example from film and literature, Edgerton demonstrates how to and how not to get your readers hooked and unable to stop watching. I’d suggest picking this book up sooner rather than later since we all have to start at the beginning.
5. Elements of Style by William Strunk, E.B. White, and Roger Angell
This is a book you must have if you are serious about writing. Concise, practical, and highly readable, the Elements of Style should be your Bible when it comes to writing. These guys did it first and they did it right! Everything you need to know about the practical business of writing is in here. Read it, re-read it, and refer back to it.
With these five books in your bookshelf, you will have at your aid a reservoir of wisdom from people who have been in this game much longer than we have and who can provide valuable perspective and expertise. Just like any skill, the more you practice and the more you learn from those who have developed the skills you want