Every writer has his or her own set of go-to writing resources, how-to books that have stood the test of time, resources they return to for each and every new project. Resources that have transformed their writing.
After 20 years of writing, and 10 years of intense study of the craft, I want to share with you my *secret* stash of writing resources. While my list is always open to change (I’m constantly on the look-out for the next go-to resource, these books have remained a critical part of my process for at least the last decade.
There are many good writing books, fewer great ones and (in my humble opinion) fewer still that transcend greatness into mind-blowing literary nirvana (maybe a slight exaggeration, but only slight). I think it’s helpful to point out that I have no connection to these books other than I am an strong believer in their instruction. I share these resources only to help my fellow writers.
Since the resources vary widely from beginner to advanced, I thought I would separate them into the following general categories: beginner, intermediate, advanced. The category in no way reflects my view of the importance of the resource. To me, they have all been essential to my growth and development as an author.
Before we jump into the list, let me also say that there are countless how-to writing books that I have both read and enjoyed. Many share insights, tips and techniques I have adopted over the years. Some of these are Stephen King’s On Writing (which I highly recommend), Plot and Structure by James Bell, most of Writer’s Digest Elements of Fiction series and many others. The following list is simply the books that have made (and continue to make) the biggest impact on my daily writing:
My Top 6 Go-to Writing Resources
Scene & Structure
Don’t let the generic cover fool you. This book is a gold mine of simple, straightforward instruction on how to structure a successful story. I learned the basic formula of “cause and effect” from this book which totally transformed my writing.
38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and how to overcome them)
Covers all the basics, from developing an active protagonist, strong villain, to lots of other novice mistakes that shipwreck stories. Again, a short, simple and practical guide to understanding the basics of effective stories.
Save the Cat!
Technically a Screenwriting how-to book, but perhaps the best book on story structure I’ve ever encountered. Easy to understand and instantly apply.
Writing for Emotional Impact
Yes, another screenwriting book. Story is story. This book reveals countless gems of how to inject story with riveting emotion. Blew my literary mind.
Techniques of the Selling Writer
While the title gives the impression of a fad marketing guide, this is actually a rather complex look at the inner mechanics of successful stories (somewhat akin to The Anatomy of Story, which is another great book). If you read Scene & Structure, you’ll discover Mr. Bickman studied under Dwight Swain. Perhaps reason enough to add this resource to your library.
Writing the Breakout Novel: Workbook
Donald Mass is one of the most successful literary agents. I have read both the book and this workbook. Both are good, but I think the workbook is better. It is filled with quick, practical advice and exercises to improve stories. I use it every time I go to write a new novel.