Speaking primarily about works of fiction, James Branch Cabell said
the goal for an author is to write perfectly about beautiful happenings.
That is a lofty goal for any writer, and perhaps over the top for
nonfiction. Yet, why not strive to write perfectly? We may fail but are
bound to have created something that is more enjoyable to read and
conveys the knowledge we wish to impart. Here are the books on writing that I have found the most useful and inspiring.
The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, by Steven Pinker, is my favorite book on style and writing.
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser, is a must-read. I have found it guided me in developing a voice for my research reports, blogs, and books. It was first published in 1976 and has been updated many times since.
Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. You may remember Kidder for The Soul of a New Machine, one of the first narrative nonfiction books on the tech industry.
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg, is a series of philosophical essays on writing that may provide some motivation.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott, is another collection of essays to help you tackle and complete a project.
Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life, by Philip Gerard, has chapters on conducting interviews, choosing a topic, and research which are a big help.
Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, by science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin, is beautifully written prose about writing beautifully.
If you find yourself fascinated by the writing life, as I am, you will enjoy Zinsser’s memoir, Writing Places: The Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher. C.S. Forester, one of my favorite fiction authors, also wrote a memoir: Long Before Forty.
What is notable about Forester is that his writing appears effortless.
The reader can be completely absorbed in the story without being
distracted by the writing at all. In the same vein as Forester, Nevil Shute’s memoir, Slide Rule, describes how he transitioned from pioneering aeronautical engineer to bestselling author of such works as A Town Like Alice and On The Beach. I
encourage you to read these works and also look up your favorite
authors on YouTube. Many of them have lectured on their writing
practices. Malcolm Gladwell teaches a master class at masterclass.com
which is revealing and practical. Oh, and one more. Jon Winokur’s The Portable Curmudgeon, a collection of over a thousand quips and quotes from notable curmudgeons, from Groucho Marks to Dorothy Parker.
This post first appeared on Peerlyst, which is sadly going offline August 27, unless a white knight rides in.