Sunday, January 8, 2012

Two of My Favorite Books on Writing and Editing

Our first post!

What better way to start a blog dedicated to the writing and editing of fiction than to suggest two of my favorite books on the subject? If you want to improve your fiction writing technique and you aren't already getting published in the top literary magazines, then I think you could do a lot worse than to treat these two books like textbooks. 

By that I mean, don't just read them, put them away, and never think about them again. I mean re-read them like they're a manual on how to live a better life. 

The first is one I've been recommending for years: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, 2nd. edition, by Renni Browne and Dave King. I haven't read every book on editing every written, but I've read quite a few and this is the one I keep coming back to. Before I studied this book, I got lots of personalized rejection letters from paying markets. After studying it, I sold five short stories to paying markets within 15 months. If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what one is. It's less than $10 on Amazon as I type this. You will never get better writing advice for $10.

Want to dig even deeper, and think about fiction in a way you might never have before? Then try How Fiction Works by James Wood. Right now it's only six dollars on Amazon. This one's a tougher read because it's not a how-to manual like the other book; it's a series of thought-provoking essays and an exploration of the mechanics of fiction through example and discussion. I would say it's not for beginners, but I would still recommend it to any and all serious students of fiction writing.

Since I want this blog to be a series of dialogues, not lectures, I ask for your input: What books on fiction writing have you found most useful? And if you're familiar with the two books I've mentioned, do you agree with my recommendations?


  1. Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird' is the only writing book I've found useful so far, but I'm going to add the books you've suggested here to my list. Writing an ms is pretty much the easy part; editing one effectively is the tough bit.

  2. Thank's for this! I'm going to check out the 'Self-Editing' one. Another is "Strunk and White's Elements of Style". It's another of these $10 gems on amazon. "Deceptively" thin at about 69 pages, it gives some really basic info on sentence structure, punctuation, etc. It's great for a newer writer or any really creative writer who yet cannot get fiction published.I only started getting fiction purchased for publication after reading and applying this book. It's the type of book you might go through and study 2-3 times over. For me, it was pearls for pennies.

  3. Glad you're starting this blog, and hoping it will be useful.
    My recommendation is the inimitable Stephen King, "On Writing."
    The prolific Mr. King approached the subject of writing, and his autobiography, reluctantly. In fact, more than a third of "On Writing" is devoted to his curriculum vitae before he opines on “what writing is” and the tools required to be successful.
    He calls the book, a best seller almost a decade ago, “my attempt to show how one writer was formed. Not how one writer was made.” A reader, critic or student has to pay a certain amount of attention to someone like King who has published more than 30 novels, sold more than 350 million copies, and given us films Doris Claiborne, The Shining, and the Green Mile. (King suggests very evenly why John Grisham and James Patterson are so successful at what they do.) “A good deal of literary criticism,” he says, “serves only to reinforce a caste system as old as the intellectual snobbery which nurtured it.” He comments that Raymond Chandler is one of the greats who are often “seated at the end of the table” because he came out of the pulp tradition. On the subject of grammar as required tools of a successful writer, he suggests the parts of speech are like accessories to go with your high school prom dress, and those weren’t too hard to understand. It’s a truism that a writer never stops learning the craft, and I’ve been writing professionally for four decades. Yet at this advanced date, King’s book had me underlining passages, dog-earing pages and scrutinizing my own writing to see where the misstatements and lazy verbiage occurred.
    When I finished "On Writing," I took it to the writing group that I lead and told them, “Buy or borrow this book if you’re serious about communicating in print.”

  4. Strunk and White is available as a free download, I think from the Gutenberg project

  5. Wilbur (Webb) ScrivnorJanuary 8, 2012 at 4:22 PM

    Seems like a good idea. I currently have something being critiqued. I live in Michigan but am currenntly "wintering" in Florida, so a lot of my library is up North. Still, I'll participate as much as I can.


  6. Will definitely check into the Browne and King recommendation. Many thanks!
    One book that I have found useful, especially in the section on revision, is "Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction" by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall.

  7. @Walt: I have _On Writing_ and I agree it's a good book. I love how he goes through one of his story's early drafts and shows you what changes he made.

    @Maggie: _Elements of Style_ is a classic! I kind of take it for granted that people would know about that one, but maybe I shouldn't.

  8. The James N Frey books How to Write a Damn Good Novel, especially the third in the series, The Key.

  9. I love Betsy Lerner's Forest for the Trees. Her advice is sound and her delivery conversational. Great book!

  10. Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan is one of the best for descriptive writing.