Writing about writing seems somewhat paradoxical. The real challenge is to explain how to write well while deploying the practices you’re preaching as you, well, write.
It’s a tough nut to crack.
I recently published this piece about why you shouldn’t use adverbs, and it took me a good few tries to write it without any adverbs.
But, writing about writing is an important thing to do. It’s a mechanism for learning. It’s a way to practice your craft. Better yet, writing about writing is a great way to involve yourself in a community that shares your interests.
While the internet is a great place to turn to for writing advice, there are plenty of books out there that preach the craft, and many of them from some of the best writers from our time.
Here are my favourites, in no particular order.
1. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’
Short, sweet and to the point. This book taught me about the biggest lesson to learn in writing: dedication.
There are so many good quotes to pull from this book, like:
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”
And best of all:
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
I could go on and on. Almost every word in this book is worth reading twice, and if you’re going to take advice from anyone about writing, it should be from the biggest author in the world.
2. George Orwell’s ‘Why I Write’
Why I Write was an interesting read. I’ve always liked Orwell’s writing style, and this book gives you a peak as to why and how he adopted it. Better still, it gives you an insight into why Orwell picked up a pen in the first place.
The man had an agenda to fulfil with his writing, and this book explains why. Politics is powerful. Writing about political viewpoints is even more so.
3. The Economist’s ‘Style Guide’
The Economist is regarded as one of the most authoritative, trustworthy and respectable media outlets in the world. Almost everything they publish is extremely thought-provoking, intelligent and educated.
Their style guide is the reason why the journal is so reputable. They have strict guidelines, and if you want to write like a world-class journalist — if you want to delve deep into a topic and keep focus on the core themes in your writing — this style guide is for you.
A big portion of this book, however, is the differences between American English and English. It can be ignored unless you’re trying to publish specifically in The Economist.
4. Christopher Vogler’s ‘The Writer’s Journey’
My friend recommended Vogler, and it was by far the best book recommendation I’ve received. This one truly shed the light on the constructs of a good novel (or movie). It’s changed the way I watch television and read books.
In short, Vogler takes the concept of Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero’s Journey’ and explores it further, deep diving into some of the best Hollywood scripts to analyse why they were so successful.
There’s no going back once you’ve read this book, however. I’ll never watch a movie in the same way again.
5. Donald Murray’s ‘Writing To Deadline’
For the journalist at work. Donal Murray won the Pulitzer Prize, so you know he’s on to something worth reading when he publishes a book.
This book is a very logical take on how to build your career as a hired gun. Murray explains how to ideate thought-provoking titles that catch the reader’s eye, how to narrow the focus of your story and how to conduct interviews to enrich your articles.
Writing to Deadline taught me a lot about writing for the reader, and how to navigate the telling of a story to achieve the biggest impact for the reader.
You want to write something that’s worth remembering. This book tells you how.
6. Strunk and White’s ‘The Elements of Style’
Pocket-sized education. Strunk and White bashed heads on this one to product the ultimate manual for the working writer. It’s a short and to-the-point bible for any hustling writer.
From explaining the rules of usage, to grammar and an approach to style, this guidebook is all you could ever ask for when it comes to understanding all the small mistakes even the best writers make in their work.
For use of a better metaphor, this book will help you explain the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse, and helping your uncle jack off a horse.
7. Thomas C. Foster’s ‘How to Read Literature Like a Professor’
Reading like a writer is a trained skill. Like Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, Foster has put together a great guide on deconstructing themes, plots, characters and other literary aspects that build a readable story.
There’s often so much more meaning behind what a writer puts on paper, and this book will help you understand it.
All you need to know is: Read between the lines.