Thursday, 31 May 2012

5 Books to Revamp Your Writing

Since my writing seems to be going well this week, I thought I'd share the books that motivate me and help me get back on track when things aren't going so well.

1. The Write Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing by Bonnie Neubauer
This is the closest you can get to an inspiration pill! The book is designed so that you can write inside as you work through the exercises, though I prefer to use my notebook (jotting down the page number for quick reference). It looks fun - colourful and full of pictures. As soon as I got it, I wanted to use it! If you're stuck for ideas, or just want to boost your creativity, this is the book for you.

2. Write Short Stories and Get Them Published (Teach Yourself series) by Zoe Fairbairns
At first glance, this looks like a typical 'beginners' guide' providing basic advice - not so. The explanations of every aspect of short story writing are simple and easy to follow, but comprehensive. Experienced writers will discover more than a checklist reminding them of what they already know. Every section is full of ideas, exercises and reading recommendations. Fairbairns encourages readers to experiment and not get hung up on the scary prospect of writing 'a story' - thinking about your craft is all very well, but it's essential to (in the words of a prominent sports brand) just do it.

3. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
This is a classic. It's the only one of these books on my Creative Writing MA reading list and it's easy to see why. Prose teaches readers to pay attention to every single word - and how the writer has arranged them. You learn how to consider the choices the writer has made and the effects of these decisions. I suspect the majority of writers are thinking 'I already do that' but I'd still recommend the book for its range and intensity. It's a rare person who won't learn something useful and inspirational from reading this book.

4. Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story (Salt Publishing guides) edited by Vanessa Gebbie
This is aimed at writers who are serious and passionate about the short story. It contains a range of essays by short story writers, all of which are inspiring and informative. It encourages its readers to explore the potential of the short story and appraoch writing short stories from different angles. I find it extremely motivating; not least because it reminds me that I'm not alone in wanting to write short stories for their own sake and there are other writers who are in love with the form.

5. The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell
I love this book. Not only does it offer strategies for systematically editing both macro and micro elements of your work, but it acknowledges that editing can be part of the artistic process. In practical terms, the development of the publishing industry over the past few decades means that, more often than not, writers are expected to edit their own work. The most they can expect is a cursory spelling, grammar and punctuation check. Bell shows how the legendary editors of writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald worked and gives readers great advice on how to implement these skills. It's indispensable.


  1. The only one of these I have is Short Circuit, which I find really interesting. It makes me think about my own attitudes to short stories, and why I keep trying to write them. Very motivating, I agree. I often dip into it when I get stuck, not so much for advice, but more for a dose of inspiration.

  2. I haven't tried any of these, Hayley - they sound very motivational!

  3. I have Short Circuit and think it's amazing. It covers every aspect so well. The others you mention sound very helpful and inspirational. I could do with The Artful Edit and will have a look on Amazon.
    There are times when these books are such a support. The one I always turn to and is never far from me is Stephen King's On Writing. It lives by my laptop and never fails.

    Thank you for sharing all these with us, Hayley.

  4. Interesting. In the huge library of writing books I have, I don't have any of these five.

    I'll have to check my next paycheck to find these.

  5. Thank you all for your comments :-)

    Joanna - I agree that On Writing is really good. If you haven't already read it, you might like Ray Bradbury's Zen and the Art of Writing.

  6. Reading Like a Writer is a great read. I haven't read the others, but I love books on craft. Thanks for the recommendations.