What’s on your shelf?

If there’s anything better than writing, it’s reading about writing. Learning the basics, honing our craft, searching for inspiration, we fill our shelves with the wisdom of those who have gone before.

                   BEHOLD THE WISDOM.

The first book on writing that I ever bought was Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, by Lawrence Block. It contains great advice for bare beginners, starting with a chapter on deciding what to write (at the time I was certain I would be a horror writer. I have written exactly one terrible horror story since making that decision.) Block serves up sound advice with humor, which is probably what I responded to best at the time. Another book that I am less crazy about but that is certainly a good book for beginners is On Writing, by Stephen King. You would think that the budding horror writer in me would have loved that book, but at some point in there he offers his opinion that a good writer will never become a great writer, at which point I threw the book across the room and became more determined than ever to some day be a great writer. I have yet to prove the man wrong, unfortunately, but I am still trying. Despite my quibble with that one particular line, it is still the book I would recommend to someone just starting out.

            For the longest time I thought in panels.

Once that ill-conceived Horror phase was over I passed through a comics-writing phase and filled my shelf with everything I could find on the subject at the time. My favorites are Scott McCloud’s classic Understanding Comics, and Writers on Comics Scriptwriting, edited by Mark Salisbury. There are follow-up volumes to both of these books, neither of which I have (but if you do, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!)

These are not the novels you're looking for. Move along.

Eventually I figured out that I’m a fantasy writer and that I wanted to write short stories (please ignore the eleven novels in varying states of completion sitting in that virtual drawer there) and my education could finally begin. And begin it did, with what I consider to this day absolutely essential reading for speculative fiction writers: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. OSC has been teaching the craft for a dog’s age, and he does it well. He covers things in this book specific to genre fiction that I have not seen covered elsewhere. The chapter on submissions, agents, and pay rates is very out of date in my copy, but fortunately we have other resources (coming up in a moment) to help us in that area. That book is part of the Elements of Fiction Writing Series.

A few of the Elements of Fiction. Imaginine and Stubbornium not shown.

The business of writing is a whole other ball of wax, and it wasn’t one I really needed to know much about beyond the basics of submission/rejection/submission until this year. Fortunately for me two books came out in a very timely fashion: Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife, and a bonus surprise book of awesomeness from SFWA that arrived last week, the SFWA Handbook. Unfortunately that one can’t be had in stores, but hey, there’s an incentive to get that SFWA membership!

For sheer inspiration I have Writing Down the Bones, and Bird by Bird. And when the most recent rejection leaves me feeling like I’ve been kicked in the teeth, I reread Ray Brabury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, which is like a hug in paperback form.

Recently I shifted from short fiction to writing novels (FOR REAL this time, I swear.) Looking for some guidance in that area I consulted my shelf, where I have Writing a Novel, by John Braine–which appears to have been replaced by the more recent How to Write a Novel–and John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. They were a little dense and academic for me (dudes, I’m writing about magic and stuff. This is spec fic. We just don’t take ourselves that seriously here.) I remembered a book mentioned by an acclaimed novelist and found it on Amazon: The Weekend Novelist, by Robert J. Ray (though on the advice of a friend I bought an older edition.) This is what I’m now using as I plunge into development for this For-Real Novel I’m about to write. (Yeah, check back with me on that in a couple of months. Is there a book on discipline I should have on my shelf? Oh, wait, I guess Bird by Bird covers that.)

My Desert Island book on writing would probably be The Mind of Your Story, by Lisa Lenard-Cook.  Lenard-Cook covers time, pacing, and tension in a way that I haven’t encountered anywhere else. As a bonus, this thing is not only useful, it’s also gorgeous.

         The whole book looks like this. *swoon!*

(Hm. Or maybe Zen. I might need a hug on a desert island. I AM TORN.)

Of course the danger inherent in collecting and reading Books About Writing is that they can easily overtake the Act of Writing, which is, most of these books are quick to point out, THE IMPORTANT PART.  Because you know what isn’t on my shelf yet? MY OWN BOOK, written by ME, employing all of the wisdom imparted by the books that ARE on the shelf.

So, what’s on your shelf? What’s helped you the most? Are any of these–or others–on your holiday wish list?

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  1. Christie Yant
    28/11/2010 at 12:43 am Permalink

    So while we’re getting this pictures-in-comments issue sorted out (if indeed we can) I created an Inkpunks Flickr Group. Go post your pictures of your Books on Writing Shelf for everyone to see!


  2. Anonymous
    28/11/2010 at 1:34 am Permalink

    I put my shelf pic up. Not fabulous; taken during the day with a window backlighting it a bit. If I get a chance I will post another pic tonight when I get home from work (yay 12-hour day!).

    My first writing book was L. Sprague de Camp’s SCIENCE FICTION HANDBOOK (revised), which I procured in the 8th-grade (only a few years after its publication). It was my bible through high school, although it’s not a great writing book. I still have a copy on my bokshelf, and also a copy of the original version, in an act of complete fetishism. It inspired me and gave me a bit of confidence.

    Years later, during my tortured artist years in the Boston coffeehouse scene, my bible was Natalie Goldberg’s WRITING DOWN THE BONES. I was writing a lot of autobiographical stuff, and journaling like mad, so its advice fit, and again, it kept me writing by giving me the confidence to put words down and a framework for valuing the words (self-indulgent as my writing was at the time). When I started college I went into the Creative Writing Program, and there was exposed to all manner of advice and theory. Gardner’s ART OF FICTION was important, as was Forster’s book. But they were worthless without my writing teachers beating me over the head to be simple and clear, to let me writing work for me, not against me.

    I went into academia when I graduated, and learned about writing both as graduate student and writing instructor. It is for these reasons that my shelf has more than just writing books on it. Books that inspire me culturally, intellectually, and creatively are all there, from the 19th-century *Living Thoughts in Words That Burn, from Poet, Sage and Humorist* (the brown book on the top shelf, far right) to style manuals to Mark Twain’s diatribes on human nature. Currently I am getting a lot out of Ursula K. Le Guin’s writing advice, and Samuel R. Delany’s criticism.

  3. Christie Yant
    28/11/2010 at 1:42 am Permalink

    Awesome! I love the picture and the stories behind it. Thanks for posting it!

    Who’s next? 🙂

  4. Erika Holt
    28/11/2010 at 3:50 pm Permalink

    Wow–lots of books I haven’t read! Thanks so much!

  5. Sandra Wickham
    29/11/2010 at 9:52 pm Permalink

    I added my books to the flickr stream!! (had to sign up for a yahoo and flickr account first)

    I may have gone a little overboard with the pics (big surprise) but once I started snapping I couldn’t help myself. (because it’s FUN)

    The pictures didn’t seem to end up in the order I wanted..but, it’s basically shots of my two bookshelves, then a couple closer up ones. Oh, and please don’t look at the dust. 😉

    I pulled out my books on the craft of writing I currently own. I’ve been donating many books to my writing group in an attempt to clear out my bookshelves. (ahem, you’ll notice many of the shelves are double layers…)

    Starting from the bottom:

    The Artist’s Way: not specifically for writers, but for all artists, focusing on the artistic process, including doing morning pages to clear the clutter from your mind. I’ll admit I did morning pages for a little while, but probably not as long as I should have. 😉 I definitely recommend it for any artist.

    The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy, Volumes 1 and 2: I really like these books because each section is written by a different author, so you’re getting many different views on writing fantasy, covering a wide range of topics.

    How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction: Okay, I admit it, I haven’t actually read this one yet. I bought it at a used bookstore in Las Vegas (Amber Unicorn books, check it out if in Vegas!) but I’m going to get around to it.

    Beginnings, Middles and Ends, by Nancy Kress: This is an EXCELLENT book! I went to a panel at WFC including Nancy and she is truly an amazing lady. I am a fan.

    The Fire in Fcition: Donald Maass: This is a new acquisition that I’m very excited about. I went to a workshop with Donald Maass last year and it was excellent. He has one of the top agency in NY and knows what he’s talking about!

    Steering the Craft, Ursula K. Le Guin: Need I say more? Check it out.

    Sometimes the Magic Works, Terry Brooks: This is my absolute favourite book on writing. It’s not so much a “How to Write,” but just thoughts on the process. I can relate to what he says, his process seems similar to mine and I get the warm fuzzies whenever I read it.

    The last two I don’t think I need to say anything about. If you don’t already have Stephen King’s On Writing, you should, as well as Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.

    Thanks Chrisite, this was fun!

  6. Don
    02/12/2010 at 2:24 am Permalink

    I actually have a good number of those books. I swear by OSC’s books. But there are a few special ones on my shelf. If I could only rescue a few from my burning writing office, those few would be…

    WRITERS ON COMICS SCRIPTWRITING, VOL. 2 — I liked this one better than the first, but only ‘cos I like the writers featured in this book (Peter Milligan, Brian Michael Bendis, Brian K. Vaughn, Mike Carey, Mark Millar) a touch more than the ones in vol. 1.

    THE CRAFT OF WRITING SCIENCE FICTION THAT SELLS by Ben Bova — aka “Don’s First Writing Book”

    HANDBOOK OF SHORT STORY WRITING, vol. 1 and 2 — aka “Don’s Second and Third Writing Books.” They gave me a bit more of a foundation for short-story writing in general than the Bova book.

    TO BE A PLAYWRIGHT by Janet Niepris — It taught me some important things about character motivation and exploration, as well as writing in general.

    STEERING THE CRAFT by Ursula K. LeGuin — the exercises are indispensable, IMHO.

    THE SCENE BOOK: A PRIMER FOR THE FICTION WRITER by Sandra Scofield — If I could only save one book, it would be this one. This is the book that actually let me get underneath the hood, so to speak, of my own writing.


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