The writer’s bookshelf

The last post on Dorothea Brand got me thinking about books on writing and I had a look at my shelves to see how many books about writing I actually had and how many I’d found useful.

Like a lot of writers, I probably have quite a few. Some I’ve bought, some have been presents and most I’ve never read.

If you check out the link below from the Gotham writing school in NYC there has to be over 50 books they recommend for the writer’s bookshelf. The problem I have with all of these books is that if you spend time reading them all, when are you actually writing? And to pose a Carrie Bradshaw type question: ‘Is buying books about writing the ultimate in procrastination for a writer?’

For me, of the fifteen or so books about writing on my shelves, there were 4 I found really useful:

On Writing by Steven King – I just loved this book because he makes writing so ordinary, a job like any other. He compares it to laying pipes! A good reminder not to get too carried away I think…
Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brand – I mentioned this on my Sunday post. This book is over 50 years old but still full of really sound advice. If you’re stuck on something go do something physical – weed the garden, go for a run. Works for me.
The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook – for when you get to the sending out stage, deciding who to target agent and publisher wise.
The Resilient Writer, compiled by Catherine Wald – the most useful book for me of all, a collection of essays on rejection from well known writers. Kept me going through the whole ‘doing the rounds’ stage and would highly recommend it.

So just wondered what anyone else thought? Any books you’d highly recommend? The one I’m thinking about getting is ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott. Thinking about it, it’s ages since I’ve bought a writing book, about 2 years. Funny how it coincides with my imminent writing trip to work on novel number 2, I hope I don’t hear anyone think the ‘P’ word…


  1. Kar

    Interesting post Yv, like you and probably most of the mutual people we know I have many books on writing. I get very excited initially about the purchase; I read avidly for a few days, take notes, get a ‘bright writing idea’ and then the new book is left beside the bed and then slowly moved to the shelf. I mean to go back and finish them, I promise myself one day, when I have lots of time.

    A couple that I have managed to finish, found very helpful and would recommend:
    ‘Short Circuit, A guide to the art of the short story’, edited by Vanessa Gebbie – it a collection of essays by various writers some familiar, some unknown to me. At the end of each essay there is advice, exercises etc. I go back to the book regularly.
    ‘How to become A Famous Writer before you’re Dead’, Ariel Gore – its a guide to writing, publishing etc. it gives realistic advice and the author thinks writers need boring day jobs to free up the mind, giving it the space to write – I liked that, made me feel not so helpless.
    ‘Writing Poetry’, Matthew Sweeny – a great little book, full of help, advice, exercises. It’s another one I re-visit.
    I have ‘On Writing’, Stephen King, and I think I am about half way through it, you’ve spurred me on to pick it up again. I’ll look up the other’s you’ve mentioned too. Autumn is a great time for pro************! And let there be none of that when you’re away 😉

    p.s. I loved the Carrie Bradshaw type question!

  2. Hey thanks for the post Karen. I have the Matthew Sweeny one too and I have to confess apart from a brief glance I've never really spent much time reading it, but I do plan to.

    I like the sound of the other two as well. See there you go, this is how the procrastination starts! Next thing I'll be online, buying them all and like you reading avidly..before the passing onto the shelf and dust gathering stage!

  3. Hi Yvonne, I love "Solutions for Writers" by Sol Stein because he seems to cover everything which should be impossible but somehow isn't. And the truly amazing, endlessly enjoyable "Story" by Robert McKee, which is written for scriptwriters but works just as well for novelists.

    And the answer to Carrie is – Yes!!! Most definitely yes!! I have to clear my bookshelves of everything except these two and then I might see the laptop more often….

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