BY JON PILL
I am a big fan of lists in general, and of reading lists in particular. There is just something about all those names and titles lined up that satisfies to the anal-retentive quartile of the soul. I also find reading about writing a useful source of inspiration as well as being informative and frequently extremely helpful in providing tools for solving writerly problems.
So I polled a few of my writing friends, and my own brain (‘I have a very good brain’); this is the completely objective and utterly definitive list that resulted. I’ve broken it up into rough categories so you can find the book to solve your particular problem easily.
The categories are broad and most of the titles spill from one into a few of the others but I needed some sort of organising principle (c.f. anal-retentive quartile) so this is what you get.
Part 1 of 5 – Books on Being A Writer
A massively overlooked topic, both in print and – as far as I can tell – on courses on writing is the actual practicalities of being a writer. By being writerly I mean less to do with what the words you produce are, and more like the stuff that gets you to the typewriter every day (or most days), dealing with the ups and downs of knowing you are a terrible hack / genius artist.
These are some of the books that aim to fill that gap. They are about learning to manage your time, to structure your days, to find your creative process. Or else they give you a sense of how publishing works, and how you as a writer fit into that world.
1. Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande. Recommended to me first in this rant/essay/blog post. I also found Margaret Atwood recommends this as the only book you need ever read on writing. The focus is on how to become a writer, ignoring specifics about style and plotting and instead aiming to teach you how to learn that stuff. Includes chapters on things like: “The Difficulty of Writing at All” and “Writing on Schedule”.
2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. A more creatively inclined approach to managing the writing life and working out what writing process works for you.
3. The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook by Various. A compendium of essays on every aspect of the writing world, and a directory of agents, magazines, publishers, and other useful market based stuff.
They publish a new edition each year. While the essays don’t age very quickly, with the rate at which small magazines and publishers fail, the directories can very quickly become obsolete. Best to pick up the most recent edition possible.
These lists are as much a cry for help as the dispensation of sage advice from a withered yet sexually-alluring oracle. Please do suggest more titles in the comments for this and the upcoming lists.
4. Not a book yet: I have yet to find a book on accounting for authors, but if you are expecting to earn anything by your pen, you should try and pick up the very basics of double entry-bookkeeping for when you have to fill in your tax returns. I know it sounds boring but you are an adult (probably) so suck it up and learn to spreadsheet.
5. Far to many books already: You could probably fill out this list with a whole load of productivity books and general self-helpwithgettingstuffdone type books. But what works in that department is just as personal but way broader, so I’ll leave that list for another time. Lifehacks.com is probably a pretty good place to look for that stuff in the meantime.
Let me know your favourite writing books in the comments. I’m always looking for more of these sorts of things to add to the list.
Click for Part 2 – Books on the Craft of Writing
Part 3 – Books on the Lives of Writers
Part 4 – Books on Reading Like a Writer
Part 5 – Books on Art and Arting in General