Megan Tripp ’14 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
10. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Although this book focuses mainly on nonfiction writing, the details and advice Zinsser gives can be applied to any type of writing. He doesn’t push his methods on you, in fact, he starts the book by saying that everyone views writing in their own way and works differently. But through his many anecdotes, you walk away feeling like you just had a refreshing conversation rather than a lecture.
9. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
While this posthumously published manuscript by the late great icon is mostly autobiographical, he drops in tidbits of writing advice that any aspiring writer should read. One of his most famous quotes can be found here; “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” Not only do you get great writing advice, but you also get the pleasure of hearing about his wonderfully entertaining drunken escapades at the same time.
8. What Would Your Character Do? by Eric Maisel, Ph.D. and Ann Maisel
This book is more for the aspiring writer who has the itch to write but not character with a mind of his own to drive the story. With sections like “At The Airport” and “Meeting the President” and “At The Sex Shop,” this book gives you thirty scenarios to run through with your character to give them a distinct personality that can drive your writing. My personal favorite is “Flirting” which is accompanied by a paragraph entitled “How the Modern Woman Flirts.” Excellent material for your character and your personal life.
7. The Best Short Stories (any year)
Aspiring writers, even if you want only to write the nest Great American Novel, you must read short stories. And these collections, no matter the year, are extremely helpful. Despite the title, these stories are not all magnificent no matter what your fiction professor tells you. Reading any of these can tell you what works and what really doesn’t work and you can cross out sections of your Great American Novel accordingly.
6. Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott
A staple in any aspiring writer’s bookcase, Lamott takes you “bird by bird,” one thing at a time through the writing process. She’s witty and encouraging and her anecdotes make you feel like she’s sitting next to you and patting your back as you go along. She gets frustrated, like you get frustrated with writing but she always gets you back on track toward your Great American Novel.
5. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Yes, this is the greatest movie of all time, and yes, the book is even better just to read for fun, but Goldman will teach you more about metafiction in this one book than any class ever. The story is told through many different narrators and everything is in Goldman’s head but by the halfway point, he’s got you under his thumb and you’re invested. Once you get over the initial awe-struck silence from the first read, read it again and really pay attention to what he did to make you believe him.
4. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R Tolkien
Tolkien is the master of fantasy. No doubt. So, aspiring writers, if you’re looking to create your own mythical world like that of J.K. Rolwing’s or Christopher Paolini’s, look to the master. The sheer amount of detail that went into these books is astonishing and while no one can hope to reach Tolkien’s level of awesomeness, there is certainly a lot to learn from reading his books. There’s no conscious thinking or observing that needs to go into reading these, just sit back relax and soak it in. He will influence your writing whether you want him to or not. (And no, you can’t just watch the movies and go try to write. That’s cheating.)
3. How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One by Stanley Fish
Fiction and lit professors have talked to you about the importance of your first sentence. But Fish in this book stresses the importance of every sentence. He admits in the first few pages to belonging to a “tribe of sentence watchers” and takes you through multiple authors and shows you just what works and what doesn’t. Sentences are just as crucial as story and character and plot and Fish will guide you to best sentence you can write.
2. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
Your high school lit teacher probably assigned it to you, and you probably didn’t read it. Go dust off your copy and read! I firmly believe that you cannot call yourself a writer, aspiring or not, if you haven’t at least looked to this book for reference. It’s not as fast-paced or exciting as say The Princess Bride, but it has what you need. All those little things, like sentence structure and punctuation and spelling, are the most important parts of a good story. Tolkien made up an entire mythical language, but first he mastered the English language. Go dig it out and read it!
1. On Writing by Stephen King
I am a huge sucker for Stephen King so take this number one with a grain of salt. Much like Hemingway, and most writers talking about their personal craft, King is a little egotistical and talks a lot about his life story before he gets into the writing details. If nothing else, his autobiography taught me to keep your rejection letters to motivate your fire to finally get published and to never ever get addicted to drugs. Two very important lessons. But once King gets into his discussion about the craft, he leaves you with metaphors, like his famous toolbox of writers’ tools, that you will unintentionally use to write your Great American Novel in the future.