Friday, July 20, 2012

Reading Recommendations for Writers

The following writing guides are among the best out there for those looking to get inspired or improve their writing skills. Appropriate for all adults, most high school students, and even precocious middle school students, these books will have even the most reluctant of writers racing for paper and pen.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser, is a classic resource for people who have to do lots of non-fiction writing. His advice is useful for students and professionals alike; Zinsser provides great tips for writing formal essays or simply writing an email to a colleague. The first part of his book contains writing principles and discusses various methods of getting words on a page. The second half is dedicated to specific forms of non-fiction like business, sports, memoirs, travel, etc. We are particularly impressed by his tips on rewriting and the way he explains how to banish “clutter” (i.e. extraneous words) from sentences and paragraphs.

Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within is more than just a writing guide. This is the kind of book that turns browsers into readers; dip into it for tips and you may find yourself reading it from cover to cover. Potential users should be aware that this is not a book to reference if you’re looking for very specific writing tips. It seems to be equal parts zen and instruction. Goldberg shares many of her own experiences and offers great advice on how to choose verbs, getting first thoughts out, and how to listen (because, she claims, “writing is 90% listening”). Goldberg believes that writing is not necessarily about the final product – though the final product is important – but about the self-discovery that occurs while creating the final product. Her short, witty chapters and warm tone may give reluctant, anxious, or frustrated writers the confidence they need to pick the pencil back up and begin again.

Fans of Stephen King’s literature will be surprised to see that the cover of his On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft features a bright window in a clean, white house with decorative flowers planted beneath. And this is the guy who kept us tossing and turning after reading The Shining?  There’s nothing spooky about this part-memoir, part-guide, however, except maybe how addictive it is. King recounts his experiences as a writer, and his keen observations about the links between writing and life will inspire and empower would-be writers everywhere. The book contains a writer’s “tool kit,” a reading list, various assignments writers can sink their teeth into, a story with corrections so that readers can appreciate the importance of editing, and more.

For those who wonder why they should take advice on writing from authors they've never heard of, Jon Winokur’s Advice to Writers: A Compendium of Quotes, Anecdotes, and Writerly Wisdom from a Dazzling Array of Literary Lights will be a welcome relief. The book is a collection of statements about all aspects of writing from people across the ages who demonstrated their prowess with a pen, from Aristotle to Toni Morrison. Though the book is intended to be more entertaining than instructive, readers will certainly find inspiration and wisdom in the words of some of their favorites, like Kurt Vonnegut’s tip: “Make your characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water,” and Hemingway’s suggestions to: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Eliminate every superfluous word.”

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