Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thursday Thirteen

Today, I thought I'd list some books about writing. All of these are in my office somewhere.

1. The Chicago Manual of Style, current edition. This is a style guide, but it contains great information about important things like sentence structure, comma placement, and capitalization. For fun, check out the monthly answers to questions that people ask at the Style website. You will be amazed.

2. Guide to Fiction Writing, by Phyllis A. Whitney. Published in 1982, this is one of the best guides for writing genre fiction that I have ever read. Phyllis Whitney authored many award-winning books, mostly mysteries and "gothics." I read her work when I was growing up. This book, which covers everything from plot to characterization, appears to be out of print, but if you have an interest in learning how to create genre fiction, I urge you to seek out a copy.

3. Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, Roget's Desk Thesaurus, Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Roget's Thesaurus, The Random House Dictionary, The American Heritage Dictionary. Yes, I have all of these reference books at my fingertips. What can I say? If you're a writer, you should have a couple of good dictionaries and a thesaurus or two at the ready.

4. Writer's Market, current edition, from Writer's Digest. I tend to buy these every other year instead of annually, because they can get expensive. They offer good advice on writing and on the writing business in articles that come before listings of places that might buy your work, though.

5. Writing the Natural Way, by Gabrielle Rico. This book advocates something called clustering, which is a way to make unusual connections, that I have used for 20 years to good effect.

6. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard. This is not a writing book, per se, but I find it inspirational in one way, and an example of what not to do in others. The book is filled with wonderful description, but I often get bogged down in the words. It's a good reminder to me to find that fine line between overwriting and explanation, and drawing in the reader. I urge every writer to find that special book that makes them think and helps them transition from reading to writing. This is that book for me. Dillard also has a book called The Writing Life that you might find more to your liking, if you want to read something by a Pulitzer Prize winner.

7. The Courage to Write, by Ralph Keyes. Many writers, myself included, suffer anxiety when they sit down. The fear? Is it good enough, what if it is good enough, what do I do with it, am I worthy? - it's a long litany that runs through the head. This book helps calm the jitters and offers up suggestions on ways to keep the blank page from becoming a monster in your dreams.

8. If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. One of the best books for inspiration and conviction I've ever read. It was written in 1938 and is just as relevant today as it was then.

9. Steering the Craft, by Ursula Le Guin. My thesis professor at Hollins uses this book to great effect in many of her creative writing classes. Having had several of those with her, I have been through the book and its exercises a couple of times. Highly recommended for self-teaching and as a reminder of things that we sometimes forget.

10. Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande. Another great inspirational book, also written long ago (1934) and still relevant today.

11. On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. A classic cheerleader's book that offers advice about writing without preaching.

12. The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. Cameron's "morning pages" are a classic, and if you can do them (I can't), then you have a great start to your day. Every now and then I pull this out and try again, but I cannot get in the habit of doing three pages of free writing every morning. I hope you can, though.

13. On Becoming a Novelist, by John Gardner. Another book about the writing life and the kind of dedication it takes to become an author.

Thursday Thirteen is played by lots of people; there is a list here. I've been playing for a while and this is my 226th time to do a list of 13 on a Thursday.


  1. Great list....I keep hearing about The Artist's Way....maybe I need to go ahead and get me a copy!!

    1. I think it would be a good thing to try. Thanks for visiting!

  2. I have a few of these books, too. It's funny how you could probably go to a hundred different writers' offices and find the same titles again and again. You can't go wrong with the "classics" I guess. ;)

    Happy TT!

    1. The classics are always good. I have to find many good new authors who thrill me as much or inform me as well. There are a few - we all know them (Anne Lamont, Natalie Goldberg) - but even they are reaching the realm of classics.

  3. My kids bought me the current edition of Writers Market for Christmas this year. How sweet are they?

    Have you tried The Weekend Novelist (Robert J. Ray)? I'm working through it right now, and it's spectacular.

  4. This is a great choice for writing books. I actually have a few of them, too, and hard to live without some. Great list. I love your blog, by the way.

    I hope this comment isn't posted multiple times. My open ID and WordPress isn't accepted and I keep trying. :-)

  5. You're so right about having more than one thesaurus. They are not all created equal! Right here I have Roget's and Rodale's Synonym Finder and Words That Sell. (I'm an advertising writer.)

  6. I got the Writer's Way at a yard sale and all the best parts were higlighted in yellow so that is the only part I read. I love Natalie Goldberg's books on writing and also loved Annie Dillard's book on writing.

  7. I have a couple of these on my shelf. We read Dillard's The Writer's Way for a college writing class.


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