As a writer I’m always pushing myself to improve my craft. After all, as a writer in the big fancy publishing machine, it’s the only power I actually have: be the best writer I can be! It’s empowering to know this is the one place where effort and results are self-made. So in the spirit of inspiring you all to become the best writer you can be, I thought I’d share a few craft books that have really made an impact on my writing journey in the last few months.
A classic for any aspiring or working writer, The Art of Fiction covers the gamut of writing techniques from the fictive dream, the importance of character, and point-of-view, to structure, plot, and profluence (and I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg). Some dislike Gardner’s “God-like” and cocky attitude, but if you’re willing to ignore his gravitas and listen to the finer points there is really a lot to learn from this book. I find myself constantly referring back to it for advice and instruction, not to mention the great exercises outlined in the back of the book.
Robert Olen Butler approaches writing from the state of unconscious creation, and boldly states that if you are thinking about your writing then you are not really tapping into the heart of your work. From Where You Dream is a compelling book on how the craft of writing is an act of creation done in the subconscious, a world of sensuality and deeply felt emotion. Each chapter is a near-transcription of his writing lectures (including discussion of student work) and pushes the boundaries of how one could (or should) work. Some people will really connect to these ideas, and others will find it difficult. Those who like to write from intuition will really enjoy this book.
For those who have a strong foundation in writing craft and are looking to push themselves into new territory David Jauss’ book Alone With All That Could Happen is the craft book for you. A series of essays on writing craft, Jauss challenges common craft concepts and pushes the reader (and writer) to really dig deeper. He claims that first person point of view can be omniscient, or that epiphanies in books are over rated to the point that they ruin perfectly good stories. He takes the common craft wisdom andputs it to the test with insight and examples. A must-read for anyone interested in taking the next step with their work.
If you are new to writing (or want a nice brush-up) Le Guin’s Steering the Craft is just the ticket. This interactive book is full of exercises and discussion. Each chapter focuses on a specific craft technique (word-choice, point-of-view, flow, tense, character, etc.) and provides the reader with a strong overview as well as an exercise to put the concepts to the test. If you’re a hands-on reader this can be a workshop in and of itself!
Initially What’s Your Story was written for young writers to help develop their craft, but I think it’s contents are just as applicable to adult writers as well. In contrast to Robert Olen Butler’s “dream your way into the story” attitude, Bauer is the thinking-writer’s guru. If you like to plan and plot this is the book for you. Bauer doesn’t begin a book until she knows how the story ends, thus offering advice on figuring out the heart of your story with a plan, story, and theme in mind. Covering the basics of story craft she shows one the essentials needed before you write your first word.
Time to get to your library and start reading!