Professional Writers Post: My Top Ten Books Every Professional Writer Should Own
By Shannon Leigh Rivera
For those of us who write, whether it be novels or short stories, news articles or blog posts, there is a never-ending supply of books written to help us achieve more. Those achievements could come in the form of tighter plotlines, better research habits, increased knowledge of story structure, or simple world-building techniques. Depending on your writing ‘specialty’ you can even track down books that show you how to create your own maps or craft your own monsters. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books available today that offer help for writing professionals. I have spent years collecting as many as I could and every month I add a few new ones to my shelves of professional materials. What I have come to find out is that there is a basic core set of books that have been really helpful for me, as a fiction and non-fiction writer. What I know about these ‘self-help’ books for writers is that, because there are so many options available today, it can be difficult to separate ‘helpful’ from ‘ugh, why did I buy this!’. Sometimes you get a book thinking that it will offer you something you haven’t already read, only to find that it is basically a rehash of another book you have already purchased. Since most writers don’t have a never ending supply of money (and we are already dying for more time to write), knowing where to spend your money (and time) is paramount.
That is where I come in. Today, I want to offer my Top Ten List of Books Every Professional Writer Should Own. This list is not inclusive. Meaning, yes, I might leave off some books that others have found helpful, myself including. I might even leave out books that some professionals swear by. What I wanted to give you was a basic list of important books that will continue to be helpful to your writing career through all the ups and downs. Some are books I had to buy in college for my BA in Creative Writing, others are books that I have read and used over and over again as a teacher and a professional.
So without further ado-
My Top Ten List of Books Every Professional Writer Should Own
1- The Practice of Creative Writing- by Heather Sellers— This book’s title is apropos because it is, in fact, practical. It offers tips, advice, guidance, and review of the basics of writing in all its forms. This includes breaking down what creative writing is and isn’t. It also means helping writers understand imagery, energy, tension, patterns, and insight created in the writing process. Poetry, short stories, longer fiction works, etc- all are covered in this student book. In fact, it is my go-to book when I am instructing younger writers. Why? Because it has a very simple but effective way of communicating creative writing instruction, including self-editing techniques. Plus, there are exercises in this book that get your creativity flowing (so if you are stuck in a writing rut, this is a plus) and there are even suggestions for participation in writing workshops, which are great for those who are part of a writing community. Another fantastic element to this book is that it offers short snippets of other writers’ works for you to read and compare/digest/pick apart as they walk you through making the most of your creativity. (Which doesn’t strictly apply to fiction writers.)
2- Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft- by Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French—where the first book choice focused on how to be a good creative writer, this books covers more technique of writing. For example, topics covered include characterization, point-of-view, character and world building, plot and structure, and showing vs. telling. Like Seller’s book, this guide also includes pieces of fictional work to help readers understand concepts. In addition, this guide also offers writing exercises meant to challenge the writer to practice, master, and practice again concepts learned and reviewed in throughout the book. Since a writer is never really finished honing his or her skills, this is one book that stays relevant to the creative writer, regardless of genre.
3- The Elements of Style- by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White— This tiny, short book is packed full of important information for writers of fiction and non-fiction. It covers usage rules, the basic principles of composition, and a guide to building unique style and voice. I also love that this book has a list of words and expressions that are commonly misused by writers around the world. Perfect for writers of all levels, this is a book that should be on every professional’s shelf.
4- On Writing Well- by William Zinsser— This books is called ‘The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction’. Aptly named because it has been out for 30 years and sold more than a million copies. No wonder it is a must have, not just for college students, but writing professionals as well. Covering everything from decluttering your work to writing for your audience, this book is instructive and informative. It covers the principles, the methods, and the forms of non-fiction writing, including how to find your unique voice in the process. As Zinsser tells the reader in his introduction, this book complements The Elements of Style because it tells how to put the principles learned in that book into practice for non-fiction writing and journalism. Even if you don’t write ‘non-fiction’, it is still a book worth investing in if for nothing more than the honest, down-to-earth explanations of what makes writing worth reading.
5- Style Guide: For Business and Technical Communication- by Larry Freeman and Breck England – Covering everything from resumes to emails, business letters to presentations- this Franklin Covey book is more than just a typical writing guide, it is a must read for every sort of professional, including writing professionals. It covers the basics of grammar and punctuation but also gives the reader a good reference guide for dealing with everyday communication needs, especially in the workplace. If you are a professional writer, chances are that you aren’t just communicating with people via your imaginary worlds. My guess is that you are going to have to, at some time, deal with people in a professional capacity. As a writer, it is imperative that you be able to communicate effectively through means other than blogs and a twitter feed. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book. Your editor can thank me later.
6- Master Lists for Writers- by Bryn Donovan—I don’t know about you, but I love lists. I love to organize my thoughts, my ideas, my life. For me, this book is a must-have for writers because it is convenient. It includes lists of names, emotions, verbs, basic plot ideas, etc. It is not all-inclusive, meaning it could cover more lists than are actually in the book, however, it is a handy guide to have on your shelf when you don’t want to spend hours googling information. Seriously, that is how we never finish our books in the first place. Buy it. You really do need this book.
7- Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches- by Jessica Page Morrell—The title of this book says it all- this is a book for the bad guys and gals. Yes, the antagonist gets some love instead of our heroes and heroines. After all, we all know that the bad guy is the reason we love the books we read. Without them, the hero/heroine wouldn’t have anything to fight against. Since writing the protagonist never seems to be a big problem for most of us, it only makes sense that someone focused on one of the pitfalls many writers face- creating a memorable antagonist. The book is a gem that should be sparkling on your shelf. With lists, tips, and suggestions sure to fire up your imagination, I don’t know why you wouldn’t add this to your collection.
8- 2016 Writer’s Market- by Kate Meadows, Carol Tice, and Dana Todd—A guide for all things writing, this annual Writer’s Digest book covers blogging, magazine writing, social media, contracts, writer’s platform, as well as lists of literary agents, book publishers, magazines, journals, contests and awards. This book also offers a list of resources for professional writers and is a must-have yearly buy, especially if you are a freelance, independently published author. They also have a guide to literary agents and more specific markets like Novel and Short Story Writer’s , Poet’s, and Children’s Writers, to name a few. I recommend the overall Writer’s Market because it covers every kind of writing avenue available for professional writers. Just know that if you are looking for more specific info, you can find it on their website and in other publications.
9- diy MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build your Community– by Gabriela Pereira—full of tips and tricks for writers who have decided, either because of time or money, that they aren’t able to pursue an MFA. It is a neatly organized, instructive book that covers what you really need to pursue your writing goals. While it might seem like a one-off (meaning you can read it once and be done), I didn’t actually feel that way about this book. I use it more like a reference book for when I feel like I am stuck in a rut. It covers everything from building mind maps or storyboards, to tackling excuses we make not to write. Overall, it is a winner to have on the shelf because of its ability to motivate and break down the writing process into manageable chunks.
10- 5 Editors Tackle The 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing- by C.S. Lakin—Every writer craves a great editor to be in their corner helping to get them out a corner or bind they have written themselves into. Enter 5 Editors and a book that is part of the Writer’s Toolbox series and you have all you could hope for, without having to pay thousands of dollars in fees. Besides addressing the 12 Flaws of Fiction Writing, this book also offers checklists to use with your writing (so you can track down your fatal errors before they ruin your literary reputation) and a ‘test’ passage where you can practice finding the flaws you just learned about. Not only has this been a fantastic tool for me as a teacher, but as an author, it has helped me to identify and fix problem areas in my own fiction writing. I highly recommend this book to all professional writers because- EDITING. Need I say more?
—Writing With Emotion, Tension, and Conflict by Cheryl St. John
—Plot Perfect by Paula Munier
—Mastering Suspense, Structure, and Plot by Jane Cleland
—Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland
—Writing Monsters by Philip Athans
—Master Class in Fiction Writing by Adam Sexton
—The Art of Language Invention by David J. Peterson
—The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans
—Violence: A Writer’s Guide by Rory Miller
—Editors on Editing by Gerald Gross
—Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King
—The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing by Alice LaPlante
—Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein
Of course, this list is NOT, I repeat, NOT comprehensive. There are, as I mentioned above, thousands of books that cover the topic of writing. Professionals may agree to disagree with my choices. Some might agree with a few but not others. My goal is to provide you with a list that has helped me as a writer, a teacher, and a professional, not give you a holy text to which you should adhere.
I would love to hear from you, however. Leave a comment with your favorite go-to book that has helped you in your professional writing career. Don’t forget to tell us why!