six more of the best (books on writing …)

Here are six more books to do with writing. I’ve just realised they are almost all by women. Please don’t read anything into that. I don’t have a gender preference when it comes to authors of text books, or any other books for that matter. It’s what’s inside that counts ;o)

What If? (Writing Exercises For Fiction Writers) by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter

The blurb says: This how-to-write fiction book is comprised primarily of exercises introduced by brief but informative essays on the aspects of fiction. Long on specifics and short on theoretical information so often found in books about the art of writing, this text provides a practical, hands-on approach to writing fiction. Organized by the elements of fiction and concluded by an anthology of contemporary fiction, this book helps all fiction writers hone and improve their craft. The elements of fiction-character, point of view, dialogue, plot, style and revision. For those interested in improving fiction-writing skills.

I say: I bought this years ago and its been worth every penny. As a writer and teacher of creative writing this is a brilliant practical book. It’s jam-packed with starter activities and longer writing exercises and lets you try out approaches and techniques rather than being a how to guide to creative writing – and I love the quotes!

“A story isn’t about a moment in time, a story is the moment in time. ”

W.D. Wetherell

The Creative Writing Coursebook (Forty Authors Share Advice ands Exercises for Fiction and Poetry), edited by Julia Bell and Paul Magrs

The blurb says: The success of the writing courses at UEA belies the myth that writing can’t be taught. This course book takes aspiring writers through three stages of practice: Gathering – getting started, learning how to keep notes, making observations and using memory; Shaping – looking at structure, point of view, character and setting; and Finishing – being your own critic, joining workshops, finding publishers. Throughout exercises and activities encourage writers to develop their skills. Contributions from forty authors provide a unique and generous pool of information, experience and advice. This is the perfect book for people who are just starting to write as well as for those who want some help honing work already completed. It will suit people writing for publication or just for their own pleasure, those writing on their own or writing groups.

I say:  I like this book, although some chapters are more helpful than others. That said,  there is an awful lot of sound, practical help here. I got this quote about The Coursebook from Julia Bell’s website  and it sums it up very nicely.

“Maybe you don’t need The Creative Writing Coursebook. Maybe you can just get on with it. Writing, though, is a solitary business, and the voices in this book are intelligent, companionable and thoughtful. A good book to have around when loneliness — or writer’s block — strikes.”

Erica Wagner The Times

If you are curious for more follow this link and read an extract from the book: Clearing Your Throat, Julia Bell

Writing Fiction (A Guide To Narrative Craft) by Janet Burroway

The blurb says: The most widely used and respected book on writing fiction, Writing Fiction guides the writer from first inspiration to final revision. Supported by an abundance exercises, this guide/anthology explores and integrates the elements of fiction while offering practical techniques and concrete examples. A focus on the writing process in its entirety provides a comprehensive guide to writing fiction, approaching distinct elements in separate chapters while building on what has been covered earlier. Topics include free-writing to revision, plot, style, characterization, dialogue, atmosphere, imagery, and point of view. An anthology of diverse and contemporary short stories followed by suggestions for discussion and writing exercises, illustrates concepts while offering variety in pacing and exposure to this increasingly popular form. The book also discusses key issues including writing workshops, using autobiography as a basis for fiction, using action in stories, using dialogue, and maintaining point of view. The sixth edition also features more short short stories than any previous edition and includes quotation boxes that offer advice and inspirational words from established writers on a wide range of topics–such as writing from experience, story structure, openings and endings, and revision. For those interested in developing their creative writing skills.

I say: I have had this book for years and I love Janet Burroway’s  style. She is engaging and informative. Simply said the book does what the blurb says.  However, in my opinion, as an experienced creative writing tutor, it is not for absolute beginners. It is rather for those students who have already had some writing experience and are ready to take their writing more seriously.

“The sensation of writing a book is the sensation of spinning, blinded by love and daring. It is the sensation of rearing and peering from the bent tip of a grass blade, looking for a route.”

Janet Burroway, author and educator

From Pitch To Publication (Everything You Need To Know To Get Published) by Carole Blake

What the blurb says: This is the insider’s guide to getting published successfully. The secret to making money from your fiction writing is not only in the quality of your work but your approach to the publishing process: in this book an industry professional shows how to make the system work for you. Advice is here from almost the moment you pick up the pen – identifying the market for your work – to working constructively with your author or agent, safeguarding your rights, negotiating and understanding contracts, and understanding how you book will actually be sold. “From Pitch to Publication” is the complete guide to presenting yourself effectively to publishers, and navigating the periods before and after publication for continuing success.

What I say: This is one of those how to get published books, which gives honest helpful advice. The world of publishing is a daunting and scary place and not for the feint-hearted. This book helps prepare you to deal with it- forewarned is forearmed! In the words of someone on Amazon who reflected my thoughts: “This is good, nitty-gritty stuff, including what to include in a submission, how to present your work and how to write a synopsis. There is also much about the book trade, including an excellent section entitled “Does an agent need you?” I’d give the book top marks except for the fact that the author is rather over-prescriptive. For example, she advocates very lengthy synopses, whereas many other agents prefer them shorter. Summary: a fine book, but take a second opinion before sending off your precious manuscript.”

Negotiating With The Dead (The Empson Lectures) by Margaret Atwood

What the blurb says: What is the role of the Writer? Prophet? High Priest of Art? Court Jester? Or witness to the real world? Looking back on her own childhood and writing career, Margaret Atwood examines the metaphors which writers of fiction and poetry have used to explain–or excuse!–their activities, looking at what costumes they have assumed, what roles they have chosen to play. In her final chapter she takes up the challenge of the title: if a writer is to be seen as “gifted”, who is doing the giving and what are the terms of the gift? Atwood’s wide reference to other writers, living and dead, is balanced by anecdotes from her own experiences, both in Canada and elsewhere. The lightness of her touch is offset by a seriousness about the purpose and the pleasures of writing, and by a deep familiarity with the myths and traditions of western literature.

What I say: I love this book. And I found this excellent blog called C’est la Vie! written by Em, which summarises the book perfectly! This is what Em says:

Margaret Atwood considers the long list of motives given by writers when asked why they write and, then, tackles the question of “what it feels like to be a writer”.  From the answers received, she deduces that it is what her book is most about:

“Possibly, then, writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out to the light.  This book is about that kind of darkness, and that kind of desire.”

Each chapter focuses on a specific aspect of writing and she poses questions such as: why does the writer write? who does s/he write for? what is the motivation behind the writing? does s/he have a moral responsibility? what relationship does s/he have with the reader?  She explores possible answers to these questions and, as always, provides a profusion of literary examples to illustrate her argument.  All her considerations are interesting and well-written and she touches on many topics that should enlighten both readers and writers, although some might find them disturbing.

“All writers are double, for the simple reason that you can never actually meet the author of the book you have just read.”

It is a book in which the activity of writing is thought out and explained to an audience.  As such, it might destroy the glamorous idea you had of the writer.  She also argues that writing is an act of communication and, in the end, it is the reader who receives the work and interprets it.  In that sense, writers cannot have any definite control on their books and what they try to transmit.

“. . . the secret is that it isn’t the writer who decides whether or not his work is relevant.  Instead it’s the reader”

Making A Literary Life (Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers) by Carolyn See

What the blurb says: As Carolyn See says, writing guides are like preachers on Sunday—there may be a lot of them, but you can’t have too many, and there’s always an audience of the faithful. And while Making a Literary Life is ostensibly a book that teaches you how to write, it really teaches you how to make your interior life into your exterior life, how to find and join that community of like-minded souls you’re sure is out there somewhere.

Carolyn See distills a lifetime of experience as novelist, memoirist, critic, and creative-writing professor into this marvelously engaging how-to book. Partly the nuts and bolts of writing (plot, point of view, character, voice) and partly an inspirational guide to living the life you dream of, Making a Literary Life takes you from the decision to “become” a writer to three months after the publication of your first book. A combination of writing and life strategies (do not tell everyone around you how you yearn to be a writer; send a “charming note” to someone you admire in the industry five days a week, every week, for the rest of your life; find the perfect characters right in front of you), Making a Literary Life is for people not usually considered part of the literary loop: the non–East Coasters, the secret scribblers.

With sagacity, a magical sense of humor, and an abiding belief in the possibilities offered to “ordinary” people living “ordinary” lives, Carolyn See has summed up her life’s work in a book so beguiling, irreverent, and giddily inspiring that you won’t even realize it’s changing your life until it already has.

What I say: This is a good fun, easy book to read. It reminds of Anne Lamott’s book Bird By Bird. It is as much about being a writer as how to make your way as a writer ie: how to get your writing published and make your name known in the literary world. Much of Carolyn See’s advice, such as writing a thousand words a day, five days a week, is very practical, while some of it, such as writing cheery thank-you notes to editors who reject your work or reviewers who trash it, is a tad cheesy and strikes me as downright silly. But basically what she is saying, which is always good to be reminded of, is : if you want to be a writer, write.

Oh and there are lots of gossipy bits in it too on the eccentric behavior of all the authors Carolyn See has met, like Amy Tan who carries two lapdogs in her purse!

Okay, that’s all for now. Six more books next week! Any books you’d like to share?


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