Today I cleaned my office. Don’t be shocked — I know I’ve warned everybody that housework is dangerous and should be avoided whenever possible. But eventually you have to put yourself on the line, screw up your courage, and throw yourself into battle, screaming like a Celt wearing blue face paint and swinging a broadsword. Or maybe you clean with a dust rag and vacuum cleaner, or a weedwacker. Whatever. They’re all valid methods. My point is: while straightening my bookshelf, I took stock of the books on writing I’ve collected over the last twenty years.
There’s a wide range here — from the lighthearted to the scholarly. Some focus on commercial fiction, others on grammar. Others, like Stephen King’s On Writing, are as much memoir as instructional book. I’ve hung onto all of these because first, I love writing and love learning as much as possible about the way storytelling functions, and second, because each of these books taught me something worthwhile about my craft.
In alphabetical order:
Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, Lawrence Block
The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker
Bestseller, Celia Brayfield
The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell
The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction, Barnaby Conrad and the staff of the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference
The Elements of Legal Style, Bryan Garner
Writing Mysteries: A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America, Edited by Sue Grafton
On Writing, Stephen King
Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
Story, Robert McKee
How Not to Write a Novel, Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark
Save the Cat, Blake Snyder
On Teaching and Writing Fiction, Wallace Stegner
Stein on Writing, Sol Stein
Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern
The Elements of Style, Strunk & White
Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss
Writing the Blockbuster Novel, Albert Zuckerman
I value all these books on their own. But their real worth can never be realized until you read fiction and study how their lessons play out on the page.
And no — when I picked up On Writing, I never imagined that one day Stephen King would update it with a list of recommended books that includes two of my novels. That’s beyond anything I could have dreamed up.