Monday, 19 September 2011

A Writer's Library

A Writer's Library.

There are many things we are told we should do as writers. One of them, suggested to me early on in my writing days, was to begin a writer's library. A writer's library contains books about the craft, about writing or writers, that one can refer to over and over again.
I thought I'd share some of the favourites from my writing shelf, in no particular order:

1) Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott.
The story behind its place on my shelf: When I returned from several years overseas, with 5 books published while I was away, I returned to the big smoke of Sydney feeling very isolated and uncertain about my writing. I met Lisa Shanahan, a Sydney based children's author, who invited me over for lunch and a chat. She suggested Bird by Bird - I cannot remember exactly what reason she gave, but I've found it (and Lisa's ongoing friendship) incredibly encouraging ever since.
Bird By Bird is Anne Lamott's "every single thing I know about writing". I love the language used, the images she discusses, the honest way she talks about the hard reality and wonder of writing. Some may find her irreverent at times, but I appreciate her take on life.

2) Writing Hannah, by Libby Gleeson
The story behind its place on my shelf: Early on in my writing journey I wrote away for a sample copy of the NSW Writer's Centre newsletter. Our family was inbetween countries at the time so I didn't subscribe but I did order several resources from their store brochure. Writing Hannah was one of them. I read this book slowly, almost meditatively, taking notes, letting my imagination experiment with ideas and soaking up the experience of writing a children's novel that Libby Gleeson shared. I've referred to it often, not as a textbook, but a companion to the process of writing for children.

3)Ragman and other stories of faith, by Walter Wangerin Jr
The story behind its place on my shelf: On one home leave (that is the time missionaries spend in their home country with their support base) I was browsing Koorong for something different and found this book. I had not read any Wangerin before I read Ragman but from the first few paragraphs of the first story I was hooked.
This is not a
writing book, as such (although one story recounts the author's experiences being mentored in the craft). It is a book of short stories, some true, some fiction. What I love is the way Walter Wangerin Jr experiments with styles and rhythms and shows just how rich faith content writing can be. I feel like this book both gives me permission to write how I want, without being constrained to one genre or style, and inspires me to write more richly.

What about you? What is one book invaluable in your writer's library, and what is the story behind it's privileged position?

Penny Reeve is a children's author, currently living with her family in Western Sydney. This week she hopes to remember to water the garden, spoil her husband (his birthday is this week) and write something worth reading over and over again.


  1. 'Bird by Bird' is indeed a goodie.

    Another classic along similar lines is 'Story' by Robert McKee. While nominally pitched at screenwriters, almost all of the concepts are portable to prose writing.

    And of course there's 'On Writing' by Stephen King.

    I was originally introduced to all of these books by a writing teacher from ACTWC. I've produced a series of checklists and tables based on these and similar resources, and I use these in my writing almost every day.

  2. The only book I've read to assist with writing was 'Writer to Writer' by Brock and Bodie Thoene, published by Bethany Publishers. Don't know if it is still available or not.

  3. I love craft books on writing. Thanks for blogging on this subject, Lee.

    I have "Bird by Bird" too and enjoy it as Anne Lamott talks not only about the craft of writing but our attitudes too.

    "The Sound of Paper" by Julia Cameron is one I love. It's a helpful, encouraging and beautiful book.

    I recently won, "The Story Template" by Amy Deardon by commenting on another blog. It arrived in the post very recently and is shaping up to be one of my favourites.

    Now I'm curious to get hold of the other books mentioned. And secretly I've been toying with aspirations to try and write a helpful writing companion for fellow writers myself, as I love them so much. Now it's out in the open and not secret any more.

  4. LOL Paula, we'll all be waiting for that one now! Don't forget to write for fiction writers too ;)

    Will have to look into those books now Lee!

  5. Hi guys,
    Those books sound interesting and go for it Paula, we always need Aussie perspectives on everything!! I always have my Thesaurus handy because I'm constantly surprised at how I repeat certain words and phrases and I need to be more creative .
    Jennifer Ann

  6. I also love 'Bird by Bird' by Anne Lamott and Wangerin's book 'Ragman and Other Cries of Faith'. Hard to pick out a favourite about writing, but I do love 'The Soul Tells A Story' by Vinita Hampton Wright, which deals more with 'engaging creativity and spirituality'. I bought this on ebay from the States when I saw it mentioned in a blog, as at the time I had noticed how much my writing journey had impacted my faith and was trying to understand that more. Also, I love Mark Tredinnick's two books 'The Little Red Writing Book' and 'The Little Green Grammar Book'. I love his humorous style and his beautiful use of words - he is an Australian poet. And 'A Novel Idea' by various inspirational fiction authors gives some good basic help with both writing and marketing fiction. I also loved 'The Artist's Way' by Julia Cameron - it's a good 'pre-writing' experience aimed at writing about the deep things in one's life. I could go on!

  7. I am still working on building a collection - I have a long wish list. One book I do have, which I love, is more to do with research than the writing process. It's called "English Through the Ages" and shows when certain words came into common use. Great for writing historicals. :)

  8. When i started writing seriously, i always wonder what books i should get to help. i would go to the big Borders and look at the writing books and the range wasn't great. But i did get one book and then order another. They are both by Sol Stein. "Stein on Writing" and "How to grow a novel"

    I haven't spent much money on my writing books. You can't when you don't have job. Maybe i will look at some of the other ones people have suggested

  9. Hi, sorry everyone, I forgot to add the author details for this blog!
    Thanks for writing about all your favorites. I'm feeling the need to go shopping now and add to my shelves using some of your suggestions. :) Keep them coming.

  10. Love talking about books, but then who among us doesn't? :)

    I think one of my favourites is Self-editing for fiction writers by Browne and King. I also like the Australian style manual.

    They're really the only two that I refer back to while writing.

    I also have certain passages in fiction novels that I will re-read to remind me how to inject that spark into my writing.

    However, I believe the most important thing for writers is to be in a critique group. Reading about writing is one thing, but having people comment and pick up those things that we overlook...well that's a totally different experience! :)

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  12. Sorry guys, gross mistake. I'll try again... I have not read a single book anyone has mentioned here and feel a bit left out:( But then, I'm not a fiction writer.

    My favourites are "From Entreprenuer to Infopreneur" by Stephanie Chandler, "Write Your eBook or Other Short Book - Fast!" by Judy Cullins, and "Hypnotic Writing" by Joe Vitale.

    And yes, Lee, a critique group would be great. So far, my critique circle has consisted of a single member - my invaluable husband. He is a fantastic critic, except when it comes to the details of grammar. And this is my weakest point since English is my second language.

    I am also torn between using Australian/UK and American English. The things that I write and have in the pipeline are mainly theological in nature and will have an audience that is mostly overseas (through bible college and Internet connections). That is why I am leaning toward US spelling and grammar. However, some people have said that I need to stick to Aussie English because I live here, whilst others think it doesn't matter - any suggestions anyone??? I need to make a decision once and for all and would really appreciate your thoughts on this.

    Thanks, Penny, for starting a great conversation.

  13. Such as great post! I was excited to read your blog post, very cool and informative......

    Sample forms

  14. What great suggestions. Thanks for reminding us to take a good look at our collection,Penny!

    I have 2 great helps by James Scott Bell, "Plot and Structure" helped me straighten out several things. And "Revision & Self-Editing" even more so. Also "A Novel Idea", by successful ACFW authors, is a mine of information. I also enjoy reading a wide variety of authors & genres in the Reader's Digest condensed books.

  15. Im going to have to get reading!!
    I always learn so much from all you seasoned authors! :) Thankyou!

  16. Penny, great post! Lee has already mentioned Self Editing for Fiction Writers, a book I return to when editing my mss. I love Debra Dixon's GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict book & I will read anything by Randy Ingermanson :) I collect craft books and I love reading them when I'm planning a new story or working on revisions.

  17. Great post, Penny. I have a collection of over a hundred how to write books, including inspirational ones on how to motivate myself and keep motivated for the writing journey of each book. There's no one that is my favourite. I take what I need from each of the books when I feel a certain area of my work needs upskilling. Also the internet is a great resource for writing know how. Great while I'm travelling.

  18. Rita, I've also got that Plot and Structure book and have found it very helpful.
    I've got another book called "Writing Fiction Step by Step" by Josip Novakovich which promises to have more than 200 exercises in it. Although I've only done one or two of the actual tasks, and read about three of the chapters it really keeps me on my toes because it is always there to say "see Penny, you don't know everything there is to know about writing, you can keep growing yet!" I think I will keep that book just for that reminder, even if I never do get around to finishing it!
    Writing books don't make us good writers, as Lee said, a writing group with actual readers and critique is invaluable, but these books can encourage and inspire us and push us on to write even better than we thought was good enough last time.
    Happy writing everyone!

  19. I find choosing favourites way too hard!
    I do love recommendations and have taken note of many of the books you've all listed to add to my TBR list. I've heard a few people mention A Novel Idea... that'll be my next to read I think.
    Thanks everyone.

  20. I have a few "ancient" books going back to copyright date of 1969. When I first started writing and not knowing other writers or anything about the publishing industry I found it very hard to find "How To" writing books.
    Now I have too many to list them all here but I do strongly suggest you check the copyright date on any of these books as things have changed quite a bit over the last few decades.
    The Complete Guide to Writing and Selling the Christian Novel by Penelope Stokes and A Novel Idea, released by Tyndale in 2009 are excellent. And because I write romance, Writing the Christian Romance by Gail Martin and the new Australian book, Heart & Craft by Valerie Parv And I won't begin to tell you about all my Writers Digest Magazines and other writers magazines I've hoarded over the years.

  21. Ok, so it sounds like if anyone needs to borrow a writing resource we just have to pop in to see Mary for a cuppa!

  22. LOL, Penny. You'd be very welcome but right now might catch a dose of flu off me! And as I mentioned many of my books are out of date now.