I have spent most of this week on social media witnessing people’s stories. To me it is a great honor to listen to someone else’s experience. It makes me feel grounded in one of the basic needs of humanity: to be connected. More than that, it helps me learn how to be a better friend, ally, and community member. I like to know that I can listen to others and support them in sharing something vulnerable by meeting it with an open heart and ear.
I’m not sure if my list of favorite writing books fits this moment very well. But the optimist in me hopes that maybe there is someone out there trying to tell their story or any story, and they find help on how to share that with the world. Or maybe you need a minute to think about one thing and you find something you didn’t know existed this morning. Whatever it is, I’m glad you’re here.
Over the last year, my favorite books on writing have changed dramatically. Most of the books I read on writing in the past were grammar, analysis, or guides on how to use text as a tool for personal transformation. This year I started to learn about the process of publishing and script-writing.
1. Before and After the Book Deal by Courtney Maum
This book has changed my life! I went to Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park to look for a book on editing (it is a lifelong struggle). I saw this book and devoured it. I knew I wanted to write novels, and theoretically, I wanted people to read them, but I had no clue what the process of doing that would be. This book helped me see the steps and behaviors needed to get to the finish line. I keep coming back to this book as I think through the business of being an author.
2. Successful Self-Publishing by Joanna Penn
Penn has helped me out of quite a pickle. I had started submitting to agents at the beginning of a pandemic. I was following agents and publishing houses on social media and saw within a couple of weeks, the situation was not going to be ideal for a first-time novelist. Penn, through her book and user-friendly website, www.TheCreativePenn.com, showed me that I had options. This book reads like a step-by-step manual on publishing, and it is easy to use. If you choose to go to the traditional publishing route, I still recommend this book. It lets you see your range of options and helps explain why it takes so long to get published. The number of steps from a completed text to publishing are many.
3. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
This book cuts to the quick. Pressfield doesn’t pull any punches as he discusses the things that get in the way of our dreams and desires. Every chapter felt like having a loving friend call me out on my bullshit and push me to go back and try again. I appreciated every section. It is what got me to sit down every day and advance writing and editing. Often I read a chapter when I don’t feel creative to remind myself that I can’t give up.
4. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Years ago, a friend told me that I think in pictures like movies. He wasn’t wrong. This book helped me work with my mind instead of against it. Synder’s book is geared toward screenwriters, but the information makes so much more sense to me for writing visually. I have studied and taught the three-act structure for a significant amount of my life, after this book, I’m not sure why. Snyder explains the components of strong storytelling in a way that connected to me. He also addresses the relationship writers need to create with their audiences. It flipped everything I understood about storytelling on its head and provided me with tools to move forward.
5. Master Lists for Writers by Bryn Donovan
This is a brainstorming buddy. Donovan’s book doesn’t teach how to write. It helps you get out of your head and think of other ways to tell a story or describe a moment. It’s a book of lists that allows a writer to imagine more options when pinned down to one way of thinking. I also have websites and my own personal records, but this is an excellent book to always have on hand.
The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird
This is the only book on my list I haven’t finished reading. I have read and skimmed huge chunks, and the writing is clean and engaging. Bird is another filmmaker providing insight into telling stories. This book is really about creating a strong relationship with the consumer of your fiction and how to create a rewarding emotional experience through your work. I’m using this book as one of my guiding texts as I work on writing my second novel. Bird provides checklists of ideas to look for in your work are provided along the way. This text is fantastic for learning new techniques and to review your own work.
That’s it for my writing book recommendations. I hope if you are reading this that you choose (have chosen) to share the story burning in your heart whether it is fiction or nonfiction. We need all of the stories to guide us to a better understanding of our world and how to make it a better place for all humans. Right now there has never been a better time to create and share content. I hope you find the tools and platforms that help you share it your way.