5 Books About Writing

I am a writer and therefore will every so often pick up a book about the craft. Below is a list of books about writing that I have read over the past several years that I found informative, inspiring, and insightful. I could give entire lectures about writing and all the different things I’ve learned through a formal education and my own individual studies, but I’ll save that for the classroom. For now, I hope you consider these books if you are a writer, if you like interesting things, or if you simply like any of these authors in particular as most of the books listed include biographical content. This is not surprising because writing is a very personal thing and everyone has their own approach and methods, which is why I picked up bits and pieces from most of these books to build upon my own habits.

About WritingThe newest book on the list is About Writing: A Field Guide For Aspiring Authors by Gareth L. Powell. This little pocket book is filled with insights about everything from beginning the writing process to how to build a following and market your published book. It has a bunch of useful tips about social media, outlining a novel, tips for attending conferences or conventions, and overall how to be a present-day author. Gareth is a powerhouse of positive energy and I highly suggest you follow him on Twitter for daily inspiration. I also recommend keeping this book on hand to pick up from time to time and review whatever part of the writing journey you are currently on. One thing I’ve taken into my own practice is Gareth’s suggestion about how to outline a novel. I may end up tweaking it a bit to better suit my needs, but it is proving immensely useful so far.

On WritingThe second book is the first book on the craft of writing I ever read and the first book I had read by this author. The book in question is one of the most popular: On Writing by Stephen King. I picked this one up shortly after finishing my undergraduate degree and felt the need to keep educating myself on the craft. Admittedly, it has been a minute since I’ve read this book, but I do remember a lot from it. First, this book is split basically into two parts. One half is focused on King himself giving some background to his journey as a writer and the other half is about the craft. Both are incredibly interesting and worth your time. One thing I have always kept with me from this book is King’s habit of always having a book on hand no matter where you are. I’m not sure why this particular thought stuck with me, but he was right that you should always keep a book on hand because you can get reading in with all the “in between” time we have in life. Waiting in line for coffee? Read a few pages. At the doctor? Read some more. Nowadays you can do this with your pocket computer if you prefer an ebook and have the willpower to stay off social media. Physical books don’t have distracting apps. I think I may need to give it another read soon since I have grown a lot as a writer and a person since I last read it.

Elements of StyleNext is another “classic” on the craft and another small, pocket-sized book. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. This is a craft book specific to the actual grammar and syntax and overall use of language and it is useful for writing in general and not just creative writing. It is a great book that can help you bolster your writing and form good habits, but like all the others, it isn’t a rule book. It may be the closest thing to one, but writing is again personal and you have your own style. This is simply one of the better resources to help you stay away from rookie mistakes and improve your prose. I think King mentions this book in his own and had some comments about Strunk and White’s thoughts about adverbs.

Zen and the Art of WritingThis next book I happened to discover while perusing the shelves of my local library. Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. This book was such a fun find. I was surprised to find so many great essays about writing that were simply inspirational. I plan to get a copy of my own to have on hand because you can pick this book up and read any essay and get that spark to start a story or continue whatever you are working on. He has such a great way of reminding you what a joy and privilege it is to write. Any self-doubt will disappear as you read. He definitely puts the zest and gusto into his thoughts about the craft. Bradbury wrote one thousand words every day since he was a kid. I’m hoping I can build a habit like his, to write every day so I am always progressing toward my goal of finishing a novel or short story. I’m still working on this though. I don’t need a thousand words. For now, any amount will do. I just need to build the good habit.

ReflectionsReflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones is another collection of essays. This collection contains a large amount of biographical content about Diana and several essays repeat the same small tidbits about her life as they were written over the course of her career. She led a very interesting life and had some strange things happen to her. You’d almost think she were truly a witch. A good-natured one though. Did you know she had C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as professors? It does contain a lot of practical advice about writing, the market, agents, editors, and publishers. However, a lot of what she is describing is from a few decades ago and much has changed since then. I’ve no doubt some of the changes were due to her influence. Many things haven’t changed much at all unfortunately. The literary landscape may have changed since the writing of the essays, but she has plenty of relevant information in this book, especially about writing for younger audiences.

I have many more books on the craft I still want to read and many more I’m sure I will discover in the future. The next on my list I already have lined up and plan to start soon. Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. I also want to read Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood. If you have a book about the craft of writing that you like, let me know with a comment. I’d love to find more. Perhaps I’ll write another list about another set of books on writing. For now, I’m going to get back to work by sticking with Rule #1 from Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules for writing which is simply: Write.

8 Rules of Writing_Neil Gaiman

Authors I’d Love to Have Coffee With (Time-Travel Edition)

That’s right, it’s the time-travel edition. These are all authors who I would have loved to have coffee with. Several of them had passed away prior to my even being born. Several were alive during my lifetime but I had not yet discovered their work and/or their fun nature. So, if I had a time machine, I’d use it to visit each of these authors to have a casual afternoon tea with (or beer or whatever). I definitely wouldn’t use a time machine for nefarious or benevolent reasons of course.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien AuthorOf course I would have Tolkien on this list. He has been a big influence on my life as well as millions of others throughout the years. A special thanks to my dad for introducing me to his work, and to Peter Jackson for his excellent film adaptations that I experienced during some of my earlier years. I became slightly crazed devouring Tolkien’s works when I first found them and though that craze has lessened, I still enjoy reading his stories. He will always be an influence in my life as well as my imagination. If you haven’t read the Tolkien biography by Humphrey Carpenter, I recommend it.

Philip K. Dick

Phil K Dick AuthorPhilip K. Dick unexpectedly became one of my favorite science fiction authors. I still have a lot of his work to read, but I’ve read several short story collections and I love most of them (some are a little goofy but most keep you thinking). He was truly an excellent write who could convey complex ideas through a simply told story. He made it look easy and Hollywood continues to use his stories for films and television. I would trade in a chance to meet him if doing so would have prevented his stroke. He could have lived so much longer and produced so much more work. His pseudo-memoir, which is really an interview transcription, titled What If Our World is Their Heaven? is a fascinating glimpse into who he was.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le GuinAlas, I discovered Le Guin only a few months before she passed away in 2018. I have much of her work yet to read, including her popular Earthsea series, but I will get around to it. Her non-fiction is fascinating and I believe she led important movements at a critical time in the development of science fiction and the publishing industry. There is much more change needed in publishing (I just read about the scandal with American Dirt), but Le Guin fought for what she believed in and that is admirable. She wanted science fiction to be taken seriously and she wanted more women writers in the world. She especially wanted women writers to stop using pseudonyms and own their work. I think we still need many people like her in the world to fight the good fight.

Robert Jordan

robert-jordanI read Robert Jordan‘s The Wheel of Time series last year and it was an experience. He rightfully deserves his fans admiration. And speaking of his fans, they are excellent people. I follow many who are part of the #twitteroftime group and they are simply fun people who love the series and love sharing about it. It’s nice to find a fandom that isn’t toxic like so many out there. Jordan’s work has brought a lot of people together and I am excited for the television adaptation, which is currently in production. Jordan is another author who had lived during my lifetime. He passed away in 2007. I would have been sixteen then, but I would have loved to meet him (if only I had discovered his series sooner). The series is quite large at ~4.5 million words across 15 books (14 and a prequel). I tracked my reading of the series on this blog. It does contain spoilers after the second book posting, but it was fun to track my thoughts and predictions as the story progressed.

Ray Bradbury

Ray BradburyI somehow had no idea that Ray Bradbury was alive during the same time I was. I naively assumed he passed away several decades ago. This is probably because I read Fahrenheit 451 in high school and almost everything else we read in school was by authors who lived a long time ago. I was wrong and can only claim youthful ignorance. Ray Bradbury passed away in 2012. I was, by then, a not-so-naive adult at age 21. What I wouldn’t have done to meet him had I known. I recently picked up his book Zen in the Art of Writing from my local library and am excited to jump in.

Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne JonesA somewhat recent discovery for me, I first discovered Diana Wynne Jones without realizing. I watched the film Howl’s Moving Castle and simply loved it. It was a few years later that I found out the movie was based on the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. I of course read the book. I love them both equally and separately. I have since heard many stories about Diana herself and she seemed like such a lovely person. She has been an inspiration to many and I’m sure my fondness for her work will grow. I recently was gifted her book Reflections: On the Magic of Writing and I am excited to read it also.

 

Even after someone is gone, they are able to leave behind bits and pieces of themselves for others to discover. Some hold those pieces dearly, others simply enjoy them, and others will share them and discuss them with their friends. This is one of the greatest things about books and writing. I’m grateful to have discovered these authors and some of them have been influential in my life and they all inspire my own writing pursuits. I also simply love to read their stories.

*If anyone develops a time-machine and could loan it to me or wants to join on an adventure, contact me immediately.

8 Authors I’d Love to Have Coffee With

I must admit that I came across a blog post by N S Ford and I thought it was a fun idea. Now, I love coffee, but I have recently gotten into tea as well (partly in an attempt to reduce my caffeine intake), so this post is really a “authors I’d love to hang out with over a drink” post.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman AuthorI’ve talked about Neil Gaiman before and have recommended many of his books. I took his MasterClass about a year ago and may very well take it again soon. Neil is one of several authors (a few also on this list) whose writing I enjoy and whose personalities I find even more fascinating. You can find more of what I think about Neil by reading my post On Neil Gaiman which is part of my Authors Who Influence Me series.

V. E. Schwab

VE SchwabI cannot remember how I first discovered V, but as with Neil, I find her fascinating as well. She gave an excellent speech titled “In Search of Doorways” at the J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture at Pembroke College in 2018. She has an active Twitter presence and is a fun to follow.

Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff AuthorAnother author who I have written about in my On Authors series, Tobias Wolff is a prolific writer who I don’t think appears on many peoples radars because his work is primarily in the realm of short stories. I absolutely love his work and would love to have an informal talk with him about many things.

Gareth L. Powell

Gareth L PowellI first discovered Gareth L Powell on Twitter and only a few months ago. Others were talking about his book About Writing: A Field Guide for Aspiring Authors. I recently read it and greatly enjoyed it. I have yet to read his fiction but I plan to pick up Embers of War in the near future and dive in. He is an absolute delight to follow. He is engaging, uplifting, and an overall prime example of what social media can be used for as he offers encouragement and maintains positive enthusiasm.

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm GladwellI never knew who Malcolm Gladwell was until I took his MasterClass on writing. I have since read all but one of his books. His most recent, Talking to Strangers, is my favorite of them all. I’ve learned so much from his research and skillful way of tying topics together around a theme that would beforehand seem unrelated. I’d have so many questions for him but would be happy just sitting there and listening to him talk.

J. K. Rowling

JKRowling_2016GalaYet another from my On Authors series, how could I not have J. K. on this list. I grew up alongside her popular character Harry Potter. By this I mean I literally grew up as the books were released and I was around the same age as Harry when each installment was released. Though I would like to have coffee/tea with her, I don’t think I’d really talk about Harry Potter at all.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret AtwoodSomehow I failed to read Margaret Atwood, or even know of her, until I took her MasterClass. She seems like a delightfully fun person and I know I would enjoy talking with her. I still have much of her work to read, but I will get to it eventually. Oryx and Crake is the next book of hers I think I will read unless I read The Testaments next as I’ve already read A Handmaid’s Tale.

Patrick Rothfuss

rothfussworldbuildersI first read Pat’s work about three years ago. I have since convinced several friends to read his Kingkiller Chronicles series and they both love me and hate me for it. I first discovered Pat through Twitter when someone (I believe it was a publisher) posted a video of him and Sabaa Tahir talking about writing and sequels and taking questions from fans. I thought they were both delightful and I read his book and loved it.

 

 

Those are eight authors who I’d love to have a drink with. I’m sure there are several others who would make such a list and many more who I have yet to discover, but we will save those for another time. Stay tuned for Authors I’d Love to Have Coffee With (Time-Travel Edition).

*If your name is on this list, the drinks are on me of course.

On Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le GuinUrsula K. Le Guin was an influential writer and advocate for the progression of science fiction and fantasy into the realms of mainstream literature. She was also a strong advocate for female writers and did what she could to promote equity in publishing. Needless to say, she was a strong-minded and socially aware individual and she has been praised and criticized for these very reasons. To me, she is an inspiration and encourages me to improve myself.

I hate to say I have only recently discovered Le Guin, but what I have read so far has already impacted my own views of writing and the field of writing. I can’t recall when I first discovered who she was (I believe I discovered her from Neil Gaiman), but I do remember when I read her work for the first time. It was The Left Hand of Darkness and I finished it roughly two years ago. She died three weeks later on January 22nd, 2018. I have since read a collection of non-fiction The Language of the Night and watched a documentary titled The Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin.* The documentary was well-one and worth the watch.

Within The Language of the Night, Le Guin discusses much of what the world of science fiction looked like from a writer’s perspective during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was at this time when the publication of science fiction and fantasy was changing. These two genres, which are often paired together, were looked down upon as a secondary form of writing or considered childish stories. There were a lot of terrible stories written during the first half the 20th century (and the second half as well), but something happened during the second half which changed societies views about these topics. I believe J.R.R. Tolkien was a big influence (mainly on the view of fantasy as a legitimate form of storytelling) primarily with his essay “On Fairy-Stories.” These areas of entertainment still face some resistance today but it is hard to deny that stories written within the classification of either genre are influential and have merit. This is not just because they are extremely popular across the globe, but because they are lasting.

Yes, we are lucky because most of the not-so-great science fiction and fantasy stories written in the 1900’s have been culled by time thus leaving us with the better stories still standing, but there are some hidden gems still out there and I hope they do not fall into obscurity or disappear altogether. I don’t believe Le Guin’s works are at any risk of disappearing. I still need to read many of her books, but the one’s I hear most about are her Earthsea series and the Hainish Cycle (this later series consists of standalone novels and includes The Left Hand of Darkness). My lovely wife bought me the illustrated Earthsea series for our one-year anniversary. I hope to read it this year.

Le Guin is known as one of many essential science fiction authors. She was advocating for the field around the time that these types of books were first being taught in schools. Many people today, myself included, grew up reading fantasy and science fiction in school alongside the other “classic” books. I read The Hobbit in middle school and again in high school (though I had already read it before it was “required”). I read Fahrenheit 451 in high school and loved it. Science fiction and fantasy have become part of the norm. They remain popular and are growing fields. At the time Le Guin was becoming a popular writer of these genres, it was a somewhat niche field. She wanted it to grow and grow it did. In the 1970’s, Le Guin stated that only 1 in 30 writers of science fiction were female. She was a rarity. She worked to encourage women writers and urged them to resist the use of male pseudonyms which was still common at that time. I’m glad that the times have changed and the world of writing is more inclusive than the past, but we still have a ways to go. I, like Le Guin, will advocate however I can to promote diversity and inclusion in all areas of life.

Though many readers believe her work can be a little too political, primarily her non-fiction, I find it mostly reassuring and encouraging. Her writing was her form of learning her social environment and saying what she wanted to say. She wrote stories of worlds where certain aspects of our society were dismissed or exaggerated in order to explore what those fictional societies would look like. This is what I believe makes them so interesting to read. Many of the aspects she writes about are still very much relevant today, nearly fifty years later, and will likely remain for a long time. I think her writing will endure because most of her stories are simply other worlds we can enjoy. Oftentimes they are, but they still hold a gem which we can either discover or ignore depending on what we want from the book. That gem is much like a flag to be raised toward a cause we may wish to stand behind.

Le Guin has influenced many writers who are popular today. I hope she continues to influence writers and others, much like she has influenced me. I may not love all of her works, but I will respect her for who she was and what she believed. Her words survive her and will continue to influence the world to persevere and improve itself. That is the best that any writer can hope for.

 


*Link was available at the time of writing. If the link is unavailable, I recommend searching the web or checking your local library for a copy of this film.

On Robert Jordan

At the start of this year, Robert Jordan was merely a name to me. I was aware of his works but had yet to read any of them. Now, as we near the end of this year, I must say that I have joined millions of others who are inspired by him. Those who have lived the many lives he weaved into his stories. It is incredible how a life can change within a year as well as what can be the catalyst to that change. We all change over time of course, but this year held an unexpected change for me in the form of The Wheel of Time.robert-jordan

The Wheel of Time is Robert Jordan’s magnum opus. He wrote several other books, seven in the Conan series and a few other standalone novels, but he is best known for this series. I read all 4.5 million words across 15 books within 9 months and must say that I was more than impressed with his vision. I have since made many friends online because of the shared interest in this story (I love when books bring people together). However, I was hesitant to begin the series. My grandmother bought me the first book over ten years ago and it sat on my bookshelf waiting for me. I had a friend rave about the series and tell me I needed to read it since I like Lord of the Rings. And I had a second friend who had just started the series himself tell me I needed to read it. All three of them were correct. I did need to read this series because once I started it, I was enraptured and it in turn consumed a lot of my time. I could go on for ages about the series itself, and I did as I tracked my way through the series on this blog, but this post is about the man behind the writing.

Robert Jordan. I’m ashamed to say I know little about him outside of what is provided in the “about the author” section from his books. He seems to have lived an interesting life by the paragraph that is provided. I’ve learned a little here and there (such as his real name was James Oliver Rigney Jr. and Robert Jordan was a pen name), but I plan to learn more about him in the near future. However, though I know they are not the characters they create, authors do leave a bit of themselves within each book they write. I like to believe that The Wheel of Time is an accurate representation of who Robert Jordan was. Not in the grand fight of good versus evil or even in the subtleties he threaded into the story arcs but the very fabric of the story insofar as it showed his incredible understanding of the world he lived in. He created incredible characters, yes, but even more impressive were his creations of different, fully-developed societies and customs. He created a realized world that has become a home to many people.

If I knew nothing about him, knowing how he has influenced generations of fans would be enough. I can now say that I have been influenced and that I recommend his books to anyone I know who would enjoy the journey. I am greatly looking forward to the television adaptation currently in production. Many fans are excited to see this story on-screen. Perhaps there will be fun behind-the-scenes information. Perhaps some of them will include discussions of Robert himself by show-runners and script writers.

Robert Jordan passed away in 2007. I would have been 16 at that time and I can’t help but feel as though I missed an opportunity in my ignorance. I doubt I would have been able to see him in person, but I would have known he was alive when he influenced my life. Too often we don’t get a chance to appreciate that. Especially with literature, but that is the magic of books. They remain to continue their work after their creators are gone. Though I spent nine months reading the series and finished only a month ago, I cannot help but be thankful I had the opportunity to experience the world he lived in and shared with the rest of us.