Before ACID sold, I didn’t tell many people I was a writer, never mind a writer who was trying to get published (you can read more about that here). The only people who read my stories were my husband and then my agent. And a combination of my shyness about sharing my work and tight finances meant going on courses was pretty much out of the question.
But I wanted to learn to write better. I needed to learn to write better. So I turned to writing books. While no book can ever provide you with a formula for success – I firmly believe that there is no ‘right’ way to write, only the way that’s right for you – reading about how other people solve their writing dilemmas is a great way to work out how to solve yours. These books are my favourites, the ones that helped and inspired me the most on my journey to becoming a published writer, and that continue to help and inspire me today.
Stephen King - On Writing
(New English Library, 2001)
I’m a huge King fan anyway – I read IT when I was thirteen, and have been hooked ever since – so when this book came out, I snapped it up. If you’re looking for precise instructions on how to query agents or structure your plots, this may not be the book for you, but with generous handfuls of autobiography thrown in, it provides a fascinating insight into the way this celebrated author works.
Sol Stein - Stein On Writing
(St Martin's Griffin, 2000)
This is much more nuts-and-bolts stuff. Sol Stein is an author, poet and playwright, who’s also edited writers like Dylan Thomas, Jack Higgins and W.H Auden. In this book, which he descibes as "…not a book of theory… a book of useable solutions…" he takes you through different techniques to make your writing work. Better than that, he shows you how to make it come to life and grab your readers by the throat. It also covers what he calls the ‘triage’ method for revising, which is one of the most useful ways of revising I’ve ever come across.
Mary O’Hara - Novel-In-The-Making
(David McKay Company, 1954)
Mary O’Hara is another writer I’ve loved from a young age, ever since I read MY FRIEND FLICKA - still one of my favourite books ever. Novel-In-The-Making, described as a self-portrait of an author at work, deals with the creation of her adult novel, THE SON OF ADAM WYNGATE, and is one of the most fascinating looks at an author’s writing process I’ve ever come across. It reads like a novel itself, and the description of her workstation on pages 106-7, with pigeonholes for “…paper, carbons, finished chapters, discards etc…” is just wonderful
Robert McKEE - Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting
For me, this is The Book. The one that quite literally turned my writing around. When I first started writing seriously, I kept coming up against the same problem: my plots either went round in circles, or fizzled out altogether. There was something I just wasn’t getting, but I couldn’t work out what, and I couldn’t find anything or anyone who could tell me. Then, one day, I saw an article in a magazine about McKee’s book. The library where I worked at the time happened to have a copy in, so I borrowed it. It was a revelation. Don’t be mislead by the title - there is very little in this book which relates specifically to screenwriting. Instead, it demystifies what makes a story work. It’s hardcore stuff – I had to take notes as I read it, and it was a good year before what I learnt from it really started to sink in. But it was worth every minute I spent poring over it, trying to understand what McKee was telling me. I re-read STORY at least once a year, and every time I do, I get something new from it.
What about you? Which writing books do you turn to for help and inspiration?