When we consider the definition of a “classic book,” most often we get a mental picture of our favorite works of fiction and the authors who wrote them. Yet as a writer, my most dog-eared print books are volumes on the craft of writing. Some I’ve owned since the 1990s, and they’ve been boxed up, moved to a new address, unpacked and re-shelved multiple times. They’ve remained my most dependable tools to both increase my skill and help me stick with this hobby-turned-career. A few stand out in particular, and I’ll present them here.
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott (1994). The best book about the writing process I’ve ever read, and it is truly dear to my heart. Every single writer should read – and own – Ms. Lamott’s classic. She tells us, “Find out what each character cares most about in the world because then you will have discovered what’s at stake.”
The Synonym Finder, by Rodale Press (1978). Freelance editor Laurie Rosen suggested I buy this twenty years ago, and I’m here to tell you this huge book rocked my world. It’s nearly always beside my laptop, and although Word’s synonym-finding function (hit “shift F7”) has improved by leaps and bounds in the past decade, The Synonym Finder still offers word options that will make you drool and say, “Why didn’t I think of that?!”
Keys for Writers, by Ann Raines (1996). Tabbed for easy use, covers issues from the writing process through sentence structure to AP and Chicago style. I’ve owned this little volume since an English Composition class, taken when I returned to college mid-life to finish a degree. It’s a close friend.
Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King (2004). My friend Laura Zera recommended this to me, and I found it indispensable for correcting several sentence structure issues in my writing. Easy to read, follow, understand and implement, and it points out lots of newbie writer errors and guides you to correct them. Yikes!
Write Away, by Elizabeth George (2004). My friend Deryn Collier recommended this book to me for a couple of chapters in particular: developing setting and landscape in your plot. If you’ve read any of Ms. George’s novels, you’ll agree she’s adept at setting a proper scene.
Stein On Writing, by Sol Stein (1995). I read Sol’s book back in 1995 and I still thumb through it occasionally. “As readers, we are immediately interested in a character who wants something badly.” “What the writer deals with is the unspoken, what people see or sense in silence.”