One thing I wish I’d done earlier in my writing life is learn from others. Writing in a vacuum has its advantages, but they are few, and the learning process is a slow one. So to help out budding authors (as well as my peers or maybe even those more experienced than me) I’ve curated some of the most helpful books and websites so that you don’t have to waste as much time as me finding the diamonds in the rough.
Whether you’re a new author or an experienced one, hopefully I can help you find a little bit of inspiration and direction here. And you can keep coming back here every now and then to see if I’ve added more links – I’m sure I forgot some and I’m sure I’ll find more to add in the future as well.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
A pocket-sized book you’re guaranteed to learn a lot from. This one is essential, and written in a very engaging tone, unlike most English textbooks. William Zinsser believes that all writers should read this book at least once a year, and I happen to agree.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
As mentioned above, Zinsser is a huge fan and proponent of The Elements of Style, and that’s probably what makes him its best example of what happens when you employ style well. This book is mainly aimed at non-fiction and business writers, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading if you’re a fiction writer. What’s more, he does something few other authors have done and actually breaks down one of his pieces to show the writing process he went through to achieve the final product.
How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson
You’ve probably heard of the Snowflake Method by now, but have you ever tried it? Ingermanson, creator of the Snowflake Method himself, uses this book to tell a story of someone actually learning and using the Snowflake Method. What’s more, he used the Method to plot this book and shares his notes in the back of the book for reference.
Write your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell
Now here’s a new approach. Bell sets out to find a method that any writer can follow to help pull their planning stages or their in-progress story out of the mud. It’s a great way to look at story structure, even if you don’t end up using his method in the end.
Break Writer’s Block Now! by Jerrold Mundis
Bold claim, I know. I’ve written about this book before, but this book is Mundis’s structured approach to building up a solid writing schedule, and keeping up the motivation to keep going, adapted from a one-on-one class he’s done over the years with various successful authors. If you haven’t been writing much lately, this may be the book for you.
2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron
In a similar vein to the above book (and blogged about in the same post) Aaron’s approach to writing is full of little methods that can help the struggling, uninspired writer. Using her methods, she planned, wrote, edited, and published a book in thirteen days. Her approach to editing is probably the best I’ve ever read. You don’t have to write 10,000 words a day to reap the benefits of this one, but if you achieve that, even better!
5,000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox
If you’re a numbers guy like me (and Fox) who keeps spreadsheets to log productivity, you need this book, regardless of if you think you can achieve 5,000 words in an hour. And when you get to the last chapter of the book, you may be surprised by how motivated it can make you. I know I’ll be reading the last chapter (maybe even the whole book) multiple times. Plus, this book gets straight to the point and avoids dithering about with personal anecdotes. Fox even developed a companion app to help you with your goals called 5KWPH, and also offers a premade spreadsheet if you can’t or don’t want to use a smartphone while you’re writing.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
This one has mixed reviews, but I think the one thing at a time approach that this book teaches is helpful if only because it takes the daunting approach of writing a novel and cuts it up into manageable pieces. Plus, it’s a fun read full of surprising and evocative analogies.
Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing by David Farland
There’s a famous quote whose actual origins Google have failed me: “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” Farland shows famous examples where this technique has been used in writing. It’s not about the words, though; it’s about reminding people of something they already love. This book will, if nothing else, put you at ease that something from your stories seems a lot like something you’ve seen before – so long as it doesn’t border on plagiarism of course.
The Pursuit of Perfection: And How It Harms Writers by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The main takeaway from this book is a criticism of English teachers and writing groups that make writers feel like nothing they can ever do is good enough. It’s not a pass to be lazy, of course, but rather a note that perfection is unattainable (that’s what makes it perfect) and that you should just write the best story you can, as well as you can. Work hard, but realize that no one is perfect.
Write. Publish. Repeat. by Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt, and David Wright
These three goofballs are the voices and faces behind the Self Publishing Podcast. Their insight and entrepreneurial spirit is infectious. If you’re highly resistant to self-publishing, don’t read this, because it will make you at least consider it. I got my copy in a bundle called The Indie Author Power Pack (I’m not sure if it’s still available) which also came with Let’s Get Digital by David Gaugran and How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn, both of which I also recommend if you’re planning on going indie.
A Tax Cheat-Sheet for Self-Published Authors from TurboTax
This isn’t a book, but it’s useful information for self-publishers. Self-published authors aren’t immune to Uncle Sam (or whatever your country of residence calls taxes) but they have to do more work themselves if they don’t want to get hit by an audit. There’s a limit on how much money you can make from your writing before you have to file for taxes, and if you’re lucky enough to make a decent income from your writing, you can go the extra mile and pay to have a tax expert help you with these taxes. Big thanks to Jan and her young writers from Creative Girls Adventure Book Club for this tip.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
“This is the number one defense against cringe-worthy writing.” Thanks to A. S. Akkalon for the tip. This entry will be updated once I’ve finished reading it.
Rise of the Machines by Kristen Lamb
If you’re a writer trying to build your author platform, Kristen Lamb certainly has your back. In the words of A.S. Akkalon, who recommended this book to me: “This is the guide for authors looking to build a platform.” Lamb teaches you how to use social media and blogging to build your audience without selling your soul. Not only does she teach you that you can still be yourself, she teaches you that being yourself is the best tool you have for building your brand.
On Writing by the Seat of your Pants (AKA “Pantsing”)
No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty
Okay, this isn’t exactly pantsing, because of the planning stages. But it is about writing a novel in a month, with little to go on. Written by the creator of NaNoWriMo himself, Baty gives you the keys to success every November.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
I feel like I’m going to get crap for not listing this one sooner, but I have a good reason: I don’t find it that helpful. The book is first and foremost a memoir, an autobiography of sorts which outlines what made King into the writer that he is. But that’s not to say I don’t recommend it. King’s story of his rise to sudden fame and fortune really helps show what it takes to be a serious writer.
Helpful Websites & Tools
NaNoWriMo – This is the main site for National Novel Writing Month, an annual event in which hundreds of thousands of writers show off their writing chops by writing a 50,000 word novel in the thirty days of November. If you’ve heard of it but never tried it before, it doesn’t hurt to go for it at least once. They also host Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July. It’s fun, it’s got a great community, and it might just be the boost you need to get your writing jump-started.
Absolute Write Forums – Go here to be among like-minded writers of all skill levels. The forums even feature an area where you can share your writing behind a password protected board (which allows you to maintain first publication rights) but you have to accrue 50 posts before you can post your own work there. But if you’re serious about writing and discussing craft and story, 50 posts is a breeze.
Word War on MS Wishlist – Created by an Absolute Write forum member, this is a cool tool you can use to see how much you can write in a given period of time. Get other writers to compete with you for even more fun. The main purpose of the website is to share agent information and give you a little insight into what agents are looking for these days. Maybe your completed manuscript will be exactly what someone’s looking for?
Storybundle – I’ve found a lot of these books and more through Storybundle sales. The site works just like Humble Bundle but it’s exclusively for ebooks. Occasionally, bundles of books about writing appear, so sign up to be notified of all new sales on the site if you want to get some of these books for cheap.
Terrible Minds – Have I mentioned Chuck Wendig before? I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned Chuck Wendig before. In fact, I need to stop quoting him so often. But it’s so hard when he says so many helpful things in helpful and relatable ways! Seriously, just check him out. But before you do, his language tends to be a little NSFW, so proceed with caution and responsibility depending on where you’re reading this.
Scrivener – This is my primary word processor, and many other authors swear by this program. This program is extremely helpful if you’re trying to print out a manuscript but need it formatted quickly, and even has a fairly user-friendly system to make your book into an ebook of any format. It’s normally $40, but if you win NaNoWriMo, you’ll get a half-off code.
Feel like I missed something? Send me an email and I’ll check it out. Remember to stay tuned for more.