Image: Lost in a sea of books? (Source: World's greatest libraries)
All writers are readers, right? If they’re not they should be. Reading across multiple fiction genres assists any writer to improve their own writing. Writers read for pleasure and to study their craft. But writers read things differently. While reading they are on the hunt for new and interesting ways of writing, learning as they go.
But what about non-fiction. Most writers carry out significant research to ensure that any historical or technical aspects are aligned with reality. Even writers of speculative and science fiction generally extrapolate from the known. A classic example of this is in Michael Crichton Jurassic Park, where research of DNA extracted from a mosquito trapped in amber is extrapolated to being able to recreate extinct species. Excitingly, this technology is getting closer and closer to reality as each year clicks over from Crichton's book release in 1990. It is already technically feasible to bring back the dodo, woolly mammoth and the thylacine. But I digress.
Image: Mosquito trapped in amber, similar to the inspiration of 'Jurassic Park' (Source: Dinosaur Creations).
There are also a great many book that writers can read that focus on the craft of writing. I’ve complied a short list of some of my favourites.
Stephen King. ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’
Every active or aspiring writer needs to read this. I refer to it frequently. In this book the hugely successful author (he also writes as Richard Bachman, John Swithen and Beryl Evans) shares the experiences, habits, and beliefs that have shaped him and his work.
This part memoir, part masterclass is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King's advice is grounded in his vivid memories from his childhood through his emergence as a writer. It’s an inspiring and easy read that has something for everyone.
I particularly like his anecdote of the nail and the rejection slips. Early on he was an avid writer frequently submitted pieces, only to have them rejected. He would put the rejections slips on a nail sticking out of a window frame above his desk. When asked what he did when there were too many rejections to fit on the nail his response was “Get a bigger nail!”
Georgia Richter and Deborah Hunn. ‘How to be an Author: The Business of Being a Writer in Australia.’
The more I get into writing the more it becomes apparent that Australian writers and writing is a bit different. Of course, there are exceptions that stand tall on the international stage, but the Australian environment has attributes that set it apart. For example, the ‘machine’ that produces writers in the US pumps them out of an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program that doesn’t appear to have an equivalent here (not that volume necessarily means quality). The other aspect is the market for quintessential Australian work is small, due to our domestic population. The biggest impact of this is that the average wage for an Australian writer is almost half the minimum wage. The majority of Australian writers have to work other jobs to eat. That said, it doesn’t stop fantastic writers being discovered every year in Australia
In this book Georgia Richter and Deborah Hunn look at the business of becoming an author in an Australian context. They share all you need to know about inspiration and research, how to submit to a publisher, create an author brand, pitching, effective social media and much more. Before you chuck in the day job have a read of this one, not to be discouraged – but get a valuable perspective on reality.
Graeme Simsion: ‘The Novel Project: A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Novel’
Simsion is best known for his amazing book ‘The Rosie Project’ (do yourself a favour if you haven’t read it).
In this book ‘The Novel Project’ uncovers Simision’s secrets to his global bestsellers' success (a great example of an Australian writer shining on the world stage). The book sets out a very business-like, procedural way to go about the craft. It is based on established theories of creativity and design, drawing on Simsion's former career as an IT consultant. He suggests that the book doesn’t have the tertiary approach top writing where the focus is on works of literature. He suggests an alternate title might have been ‘What They Don't Teach You in Writing School’. The book covers the entire writing process, from premise to proofreading, in a project management framework.
The Novel Project is a masterclass from an author who started his writing career at fifty and whose novels have now sold millions of copies internationally.
Image: The Novel Project book cover (Source: Text Publishing).
Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait. ‘So You Want to Be a Writer: How to get started (while you still have a day job)’
The authors claim this a is the ultimate all-in-one guide to making your writing dreams come true! Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo — co-hosts of the popular 'So You Want to Be a Writer' podcast — provides practical advice on how to be a successful writer (in all forms).
Chockers with tips on a wide range of areas that will enhance your potential las a writer, including how to connect with people who will help your career grow, productivity tips for fitting everything into your already busy life, how to keep creativity flowing and where to find other writers just like you. It also has tips on defining what your writing goals should be (and could be). The book also includes tips and hints drawn from a plethora of established writers.
Harumi Murakami. ‘Novelist as a Vocation.’
Disclaimer: I am a big fan of this author's writing and would probably search down and read a discarded shopping list if he wrote it. That said, like the Stephen King book above, this provides a unique look into the mind of a master storyteller who has carved out a unique and highly successful career.
In this book the author shares what he thinks about being a novelist; his thoughts on the role of fiction in society; his origins as a writer; and the way he finds the things that inspire his work (including writers, artists, and musicians). He is particular inspired by music, from an eclectic range of sources. He was a jazz bar proprietor before he was inspired to write at age 29.
Readers, like me, who wonder where Murakami gets his ideas and what inspires his unique and surreal worlds will be fascinated by this frank and personal look at the craft of writing.
Like all of his other works, the cover of this gem is a work of art. It is a montage of many of his other book covers. The book is worth purchasing just so you can display it on your bookshelf.
Image: 'Novelist as a Vocation' book cover (Source: Penguin).
Joanna Penn. ‘How To Write a Novel: From Idea to Book.’
I have sometimes wondered if Joanna Penn is human. At the very least I’ve thought she might be a number of humans. She is such a prolific creator. I’ve selected just one of her books here – but she has produced an encyclopaedic number of titles that all offer valuable and practical insights. She also has a great podcast, webinar series and an interactive website that is worth a look.
She is an award winning, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 18 novels and novellas (and counting) with nearly a million books sold. The book mentioned here will help you write your first novel, improve your creative process so you can write more novels and impart the skills that will enable you to reach more readers. The book covers mindset, ideas and research, aspects of the craft, how to write a first draft (and get it completed) and work through the editing process to a finished book. Other titles include ‘How to Write the First Draft of your Novel’, ‘How to Use Dictation to Write Faster and Become a Healthier Writer’, ‘Self-doubt and Imposter Syndrome’, ‘Seven Steps to Write Your Novel’ and ‘Plotting Outlining vs Discovery Writing’ (also known as plotting versus pantsing).
If I’ve missed any in my top six let me (and others) know by shooting me an email.