Favourite books on how to write
I’ve got far more books on writing than I can care to admit to. There’s some justification. Some of them have been essential tools in learning how to write. And then too writing is a solitary occupation and it’s good to have a few old friends to turn to when I grind to a halt. But do I really need to have so many? In truth they are something of an addiction. Here are a few favourites. For inspiration, rather than technique there’s Dorothea Brande’s classic Becoming a Writer (first published 1934) and Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. I wish I had known Brenda. The biography in the reprint of her book notes that she lived to 93, achieved an international swimming record for the over-80s, and was knighted by the King of Norway. As for her book, what woman writer wouldn’t warm to this chapter heading: ‘Why women who do too much housework should neglect it for their writing.’ Not that I have ever needed much encouraging to do that. Now that I’ve got the book down from the shelf, I want to read it again. Also good when I need a pep talk is Stephen King’s On Writing. Plot and structure are what I have always found most demanding and in the early days Robert J Ray’s The Week-end Novelist and Robert Mackee’s Story were constant companions. And then there are Lawrence’s Block’s excellent books on writing, one of which has the great title, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit.
Recently, another couple of books have joined these (and many others) on the shelf beside my desk: Antony Johnston’s The Organised Writer: How to Stay on Top of all Your Projects and Never Miss a Deadline and Howdunit: A Master Class in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club, edited by Martin Edwards. Reading The Organised Writer is like having a writing coach at your elbow and contains excellent advice on how to do that one thing essential to maintaining a career as a writer: clearing away the welter of other things that clamour for your time and attention and getting down to it. The book itself is extremely well-organised and easy to use. I know I will refer to it again and again. Antony practises what he preaches: he is one of the most productive people I know. Howdunnit is more of a book for dipping into. Ninety members of the Detection Club write on every aspect of crime-writing. The books runs to 500 pages and is stuffed with fascinating insights and excellent advice.
So, two worthy additions to my collection – and the only problem is that I do rather tend to find myself reading books about writing when I really ought to be, well … writing …