Books & Resources for Writers

Books & Resources for Writers is an ever-growing list of books, websites, podcasts, videos, and software that have proved helpful in my writer’s journey.

The Craft of Writing and the Writer’s Life

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” — Stephen King, On Writing

The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne This book has changed the way I outline, develop, and edit my stories. Shawn Coyne has been an editor for over 25 years and in addition to the book he has a website and a podcast. I highly recommend checking them out. [I recommend getting the book in paperback, because the graphs are apparently difficult to see on the eBook version. However, if you do get the eBook version, you can download some of the graphs from the Story Grid website.]

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King Part autobiography and part comment on the craft of writing, On Writing helped me understand the realities of what it takes to be a writer and how to tell a good story.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott I learned all about the importance of the “shitty first draft” and a bit about what it’s like to be a writer. Anne’s recommendations on how to overcome writer’s block was instrumental in my decision to start this site.

Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee While this is technically a book for screenwriters, McKee’s lessons focus on story (hence the title) so the lessons learned here can be applied to all writing.

The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey by Joanna Penn Many books focus on the craft of writing, but few address the mental state of being a writer. Joanna explores the light and dark side of being a writer and even presents us with some excerpts from her diary showcasing just how difficult it can get and how to overcome those challenges.

A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfiction by Terry Pratchett I’ve learned that it’s a good idea to read nonfiction collections by the authors I love, because they all eventually talk about writing. If you’ve never heard of (or read) Terry Pratchett, we need to talk.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield If you need some tough love motivation to get you out of your writer’s block and back into your story, Pressfield has you covered.

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein While I’ve learned a lot from writers, I feel like I’ve learned just as much (perhaps more) from editors. There’s an author (I can’t recall who it is) who said he learned more about writing from his editor than anyone else. The author explained that on his first book he worked with a first time editor. However, by the time the author had written his second book the editor had edited many more books. The editor now knew more about what make a book work, or not work, than the author did. I’ve learned to payed close attention to the words of editors.

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler Based on the work of Joseph Campbell from his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (which I also recommend reading), The Writer’s Journey deconstructs “the hero’s journey” a tried and true structure for storytelling that can be found in everything from ancient myths to The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser This book helped me cut the fat out of my writing.

 Grammar, Punctuation, Style, and Usage

“Let grammar, punctuation, and spelling into your life! Even the most energetic and wonderful mess has to be turned into sentences.” — Terry Pratchett

The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation by Bryan A. Garner Your one-stop-shop for grammar, usage, and punctuation.

Garner’s Modern English Usage by Bryan A. Garner 1000+ pages on usage of the English language, I’ve found it to be a great resource when unsure about any sort of word usage in my writing.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White This small book contains a lot of helpful information about the mechanics of writing. I revisit it often.

The Chicago Manual of Style This is the first book I turn to when I have a question about style guidelines.

Marketing and Making Money

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” — Douglas Adams

Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book by Tim Grahl A very practical guide to marketing your book as an independent author. Tim is also half of the Story Grid podcast (mentioned below).

How to Make a Living with Your Writing: Books, Blogging and More by Joanna Penn Covers a lot of ground in a short book about the ins and outs of how to make a living with your writing in the growing world of indie publishing.

Helpful Books for Writers that Aren’t About Writing

“Just take the fucking donuts.” — Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin This book helped me understand that every author who has readers is a leader of a tribe. It also helped me understand how tribes work and why they are important.

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday Ego is a dangerous thing and I think we all let it get the best of us from time to time. Ego is the Enemy is one of those books that forced me to take a deeper and more honest look at myself.

The Art of Asking: or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer Amanda Palmer is a musician by trade (she also happens to be married to fantasy author, Neil Gaiman), but The Art of Asking should be of great service to anyone who works in a creative field. It helped me understand the “fraud police” and that people actually want to help artists achieve their goals.

Websites, Podcasts, and Videos

“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.” —Ernest Hemingway

1000 True Fans Written by Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, this blog post uses independent musicians as an example of the value of 1,000 true fans, however, I think it is a good read for writers as well.

The Creative Penn Endless amounts of knowledge can be gained from Joanna Penn’s website and podcast. I’ve been listening for a few years now and have learned so much about everything from writing to marketing to keeping sane as a writer.

Make Good Art Make Good Art is a commencement speech Neil Gaiman gave at the University of the Arts in 2012. It’s essential viewing for anyone interested in the arts. It was later released in book form. The transcript is also featured in Neil Gaiman’s nonfiction collection, The View from the Cheap Seats.

My Dad Wrote a Porno Now, you may be wondering what a podcast like this is doing on a list like this. Well, in On Writing Stephen King says that sometimes reading terrible writing can make you a better writer. I can verify this. I have found that when I read truly terrible writing, my inner editor kicks in and I start taking mental notes on all the things I shouldn’t do in my writing. That’s where My Dad Wrote a Porno comes in. Just like the title not so subtly implies, this guy’s dad wrote an erotic novel and it’s terrible. On the podcast, he reads his dad’s novel aloud while two of his friends laugh and comment on how terrible it is. It’s a good time. I also appreciate that they have both a male and female perspective represented on the show. So, laugh and learn how not to write at the same time.

Scriptnotes Hosted by screenwriters, John August (Go, Charlie’s Angels, Big Fish) and Craig Mazin (RocketMan, The Hangover Part II, The Huntsman: Winter’s War) , Scriptnotes is a podcast on screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Story Grid Story Grid is a website (with a forum), a podcast, and a book. Based on the findings of Shawn Coyne—an editor with 25+ years experience—the Story Grid website contains lots of useful resources. The Story Grid podcast features Shawn helping book marketing wiz, Tim Grahl (remember him from above), as he writes his first fiction novel. I recommend listening to every episode of Story Grid, however, if your struggling to get motivated to write your first novel, you should start by listening to the March 3, 2016 episode titled, “Creating Great Writing Habits”.

The Tim Ferriss Show The Tim Ferriss Show is not a writing podcast, however, he does sometimes interview writers. Tim has a wide range of guests and his long form interviews typically lead to very interesting and life improving discussions. Joanna Penn is a listener and recommends it to her listeners as well.

Writing Excuses Hosted by four working writers (Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells), Writing Excuses always impresses me with just how much info they can cram into a 15 minute podcast.

Software

“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.” —William S. Burroughs

Scrivener This is the program I use for all of my fiction writing. It has great functionality and is amazing for outlining and structuring a story. There is a one time fee of $40 to purchase the software, but if you’re serious about your writing, and Microsoft Word just isn’t cutting it, I recommend checking out Scrivener (they offer a free trial period in case you want to take it for a test drive). They also have a fully functioning iOS app ($20 US) that’s great for writing when you’re laptop isn’t nearby.

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