Favorite Books for Writers
Awhile back, I wrote in the space about some books I recommend to writers in the course of my work. Here are some others that I often suggest. The first two books celebrate the joy of making artful sentences. And the third is for those days when the art-making doesn’t go well.
The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell
This beautifully-written book is an exploration of editing—part guide, part inspiration. Instruction, checklists, and exercises focus on the nitty gritty. But Bell also uses correspondence between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor Max Perkins and sections from different drafts of The Great Gatsby to illustrate subtle aspects of the editing process.
Gem: “But to edit is to listen, above all; to hear past the emotional filters that distort the sound of our all too human words; and to then make choices rather than judgements. As we read our writing, how can we learn to hear ourselves better?”
A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation by Noah Lukeman
With chapter titles such as “The Comma (the Speed Bump)” and “The Paragraph and Section Break (the Stoplight and the Town Line),” you just know this short book is not the typical guide to punctuating for correctness. Written by a literary agent, and chock full of exercises, this book opens the writer up to the creative possibilities punctuation offers.
Gem: “There is an underlying rhythm to all text. Sentences crash and fall like the waves of the sea, work unconsciously on the reader. Punctuation is the music of language. As a conductor can influence the experience of a song by manipulating its rhythm, so can punctuation influence the reading experience, bring out the best (or worst) in a text. By controlling the speed of a text, punctuation dictates how it should be read.”
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battle, by Steven Pressfield
This is the classic book about breaking through creative blocks. Pick it up, flip to any page, and you’ll find a pithy message about the internal foes we all battle along with some golden encouragement.
Gem: “This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”
Mary Ann de Stefano is the editor of The Florida Writer (the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association) and MAD’s Monday Muse. She is also a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30+ years experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-on-one with writers who are developing books, she designs author websites. Mary Ann does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.