Okay, a quick confession, before penning my debut ‘I, Witness’ the only specific ‘Writing book’ I’d read was Stephen King’s. Since getting an agent, and a publishing deal I’ve started to think further than, ‘must write a book, must get published’ to ‘I want to do this long-term, and if I’m going to do that I must write more books, and must always, always be improving.’ One of the grains of wisdom I read over and over again, is that authors are only as good as their next book.
Mostly I do this (improving, hopefully) the way I learned how to write in the first place; by reading great novels. Luckily there are a lot of them, and new ones coming out daily. I’ve also discovered, however, that there’s a certain stage of editing where I can’t read fiction while I go, lest I accidentally imitate, can’t stop thinking about the other story, or actually they just seem more fun than trying to sort out my own words. Being me though, I can’t not read anything. I get the fidgets and drive others (husband, children, cats, friends) mad, so it’s a perfect time for me to look at ‘Writing books’.
Here are three that I have found useful to date.
This superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have.
Yeah, everyone’s always banging on about this one aren’t they. But with good reason. It’s unpretentious, amusing, and peppered with memoir and anecdote from his real-life experience as a writer. It cuts a lot of the bullshit and boils it down to what’s worked for him, on the understanding that it might work for you too. If you’re willing to put in the effort, which is immense. He stresses this a fair bit, and it’s true, writing is not for the feint-hearted.
‘On Writing’ is just a great book about craft. It’s also full of insights into overcoming difficulties, handling rejection, and personal problems that may arise. King is candid and frank about his own battles with addiction, and the importance for him of a supportive partner. As an added bonus, the short story ‘Jumper’ in the back of the first edition of this book (and Kindle version) is written by my friend Adam Howe under the name Garrett Addams.
We all love stories. But why do we tell them? And why do all stories function in an eerily similar way?
This book really delves into there being ‘no such thing as an original idea’. Yorke is the creator of the BBC Writers Academy, and has worked on lots of major British drama. Including the nation’s beloved Eastenders (die-hard fan here, Christmas would be meaningless without Albert Square). So, he is well qualified in writing that grips, and he makes really useful and valid points on why certain things work and others don’t. This book may be aimed at screen-writers but it does exceptionally well for novel writing too. Especially in a world of Netflix, fast consumption, and short attention spans.
This ultimate insider’s guide reveals the secrets that none dare admit, told by a show biz veteran who’s proven that you can sell your script if you can save the cat!
Recommended to me by the lovely Elle Croft. This is another screen writing book that transfers just as well for novels. The basic premise in this is not so different from Yorke’s; most stories are the same, there are various ‘genres’ within storytelling, what viewers (readers) want is essentially the same but different. He talks a lot about ‘primal’ stories, the ones that get you in the feels and why. It’s also littered with useful exercises that will make you think about your current work-in-progress critically.
Another great resource is George Orwell’s essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ which talks at length about clean writing; always use a shorter word, always use the English, if you can say it in three words don’t use six. It’s a perfect crash course on ‘how to’ un-clutter your prose.