It's time again for another Top Five post! I'll follow up my previous posts on the Top Five Books I Wished I'd Written and Top Five Authors I Want to Have a Martini With with this short list of my top five favorite books about writing. These are the five books I return to time and again for encouragement, practical application, inspiration.
1. On Writing Well, William Zinsser
I received a copy of this classic book from the staff of San Diego Magazine after completing my college internship there, and while I chose not to go into journalism I learned a lot from this book and from the internship. From Zinsser:
“Clutter is the disease of American writing…the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.”
2. On Writing, Stephen King
I love King’s book because it is filled with humility, practical wisdom and a good dose of humor. One of my favorite nuggets is this, and to fully understand it you will just have to read the book.
“…while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”
3. Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
I encounter my greatest self-doubt on first drafts. This helps me muddle through.
“You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”
4. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler
This one ranks right alongside Story by Robert McKee for delivering a road map through the forest of your story.
“All stories consist of a few common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and movies. Used wisely, these ancient tools of the storyteller’s craft still have tremendous power to heal our people and make the world a better place.”
5. The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children, Nancy Lamb
Although she spends more time on writing for younger readers than young adults, she helped me understand the differences between the audiences. Her book is a terrific starting place for any writer, especially those writing for children, full of tips, exercises that help illustrate the concepts, and examples from the compendium of children's literature.