5 of My Favorite Books on Writing [So Far]

I’ve read enough books about writing to make it a challenge to pick a top five, but not so many that I would dare consider this list definitive. I know there are many great books on the subject that I’ve missed or are yet to come. I’m always interested in hearing about the picks of others, so feel free to comment.

5.) Writing Fiction from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop: This book is one-stop shopping for the fiction writer. Besides offering lessons on writing, it presents exercises to help one get down to the nitty-gritty. It explores character development, plotting, pacing, dialogue, revising — i.e. the whole ball of wax. While the book offers the advice of many and varied experts, it uses a Raymond Carver story [which is included as an appendix] as a connective tissue across the various chapters.


4.) Wired for Story by Lisa Cron: Cron explores what it is about stories that appeal to the human brain, and how to take advantage of such knowledge in crafting effective stories.


3.) Building Great Sentences by Brooks Landon: I bought the audio course from The Great Courses that this book is based upon and listened to it many times over. Landon’s approach to sentence crafting resonated with me, and while it might seem overly technical as one is perusing the Table of Contents, the author’s use of examples and his manner of explanation is clear and informative.


2.) The Anatomy of Story by John Truby: Like the GWW book above, this is a guide to crafting stories. However, while Writing Fiction gets into a lot of concrete details, Truby keeps a systematic emphasis on taking a flawed character through a course of events and decisions that will result in the character coming out of the story changed. Writing Fiction presents a greater diversity of views about what is important, but The Anatomy of Story offers a more cohesive approach to building one’s story.


1.) Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury: Ray Bradbury was, in my opinion, one of the best when it came to combining story-crafting and creative use of language. One gets a lot of the latter in this book. It’s not a guide in the sense that most of the books above are. It’s inspiration — explicitly, and by example.

BOOK REVIEW: Gotham Writers’ Workshop: Writing Fiction by Various

Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York's Acclaimed Creative Writing SchoolWriting Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School by Alexander Steele

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This workbook-style guide to writing fiction is put out by the well-known New York City creative writing school. With 11 chapters, it delivers lessons on all the elements of fiction including: character development, plotting, establishing point of view, honing description, building realistic dialogue, varying pacing, establishing voice, determining a work’s theme, and carrying out revisions. It also has a chapter that goes into the business of writing (as opposed to the craft of writing which is the bailiwick of the first ten chapters.)

There are a couple of features of this book that set it apart from the vast canon of writers’ guides. First, this isn’t a single author work, which means the reader has access to a much broader pool of experience than one would in a single author text. It also means that an author can be assigned a topic according to his or her strengths as a writer.

Second, across the chapters, they use Raymond Carver’s Cathedral as an example work, and they provide that story in an appendix for those who haven’t read it. It’s not that the authors exclusively use this short story for examples. But it’s useful to have a common story and to include it because there are so many great stories and novels available that no matter how well-read one’s readership, there will be works that some haven’t read. (e.g. Much as I should’ve, I haven’t yet read nor seen the movie Gone with the Wind–a common exemplary work because it’s a beloved book, a movie, and because pop culture references [e.g. The Simpsons] have made the gist of it available to even those slackers who’ve neither read the book nor seen the movie.) There’s a reason why writers’ book authors often use movies to describe story elements, because there are many fewer movies than books and vastly fewer good movies—thus a higher likelihood of a common experience. Yes, there are a few works common across most school curricula, but there’s no better way to ensure that a book doesn’t get read thoroughly than to assign it as required reading.

A third useful feature of this book–but not one that is in any way unique to it–is that it offers writing exercises throughout to help build one’s skills through practice. This is where the value of such a book truly lies. The advice such books offer are almost always the same—sometimes hackneyed but almost always valuable. (A lot of tired advice is tired because it bears repeating owing to the constant infusion of new writers who repeat the same errors.) A final useful element of the book—but also one that features in many similar guides—is a checklist in the appendices that allows one to rapidly consider the book’s key questions as they apply to one’s own writing project.

I’d recommend this book as one of the most useful writers’ guides that I’ve read.

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READING REPORT: March 27, 2015

I finished The Painted Word this week. This book is a collection of words that the author finds noteworthy and intriguing as well as the definitions, origins, and interesting usages. There’s a loose theme of art (as the title might suggest), but it’s not particularly blatant and one might miss it if there weren’t quite a so many names of colors that probably didn’t appear in your Crayon box. There are also painting plates used as the books only graphics. Many of the words are one’s that will be well-known to the average reader, but others might be new additions to one’s vocabulary such as: bafflegab (misleading language), farteur (a professional and/or musical farter), and gymnophoria (the uneasy feeling that someone is undressing one with their eyes.)

Painted Word



I purchase a few new books this week, including: The Stationary Ark (a book by Gerald Durrell about running a zoo), Submission (a Story of O-style tell-all / novel by another Parisian woman), Dodger by Terry Pratchett (Pratchett recently passed away. I’ve only read one of his books to date [the first disc world book], but enjoyed it more than any fantasy book I’ve ever read [not my favorite genre.] This one is apparently Dickensian.), and 100 Films to See before you Die (The nice thing about this one is that it’s written by Anupama Chopra for the Times of India, and–therefore–features not only Indian [Bollywood and other] and Hollywood films but also other global films. I suspect that if I got the same book by an American author it would be 98 to 100% Hollywood–i.e. with maybe a couple French films thrown in if it was a particularly pretentious American film critic.)

Terry_Pratchett_Dodger_cover Anupama-Chopra-2330913 StationaryArk Submission


The only book that I spent significant time on that I haven’t mentioned in past Reading Reports was Gotham Writers Workshop: Writing Fiction. I read about half of this book a while back, before I got distracted by other readings (in truth, I got burned out on writing books.) However, I’ll now try to plow through this to the end, as well as a few of the other writing books that I’m pretty far into. It’s really a good book on the elements of fiction writing.



Besides those, I’ve been reading a book, Yoga Education for Children, Vol. 1, that I introduced last week. It’s the text for the yoga teacher training that I’m currently attending (RCYT). I’m about 2/3rds of the way through it.