My Top 10 favorite books on writing

Posted on July 6, 2011 in Blog, Books | 6 comments

As the summer deepens and I start planning our Fall Beachside on the McKenzie Writers Workshop, I’m thumbing through my favorite books on writing to spice up my lessons. Here are the ones I recommend highest for beginning and intermediate writers:

1. Writing for Story by Jon Franklin. No book has done more to help me understand the essence of a true story. (By a Pulitzer Prize-winning former UO journalism professor.)
2. On Writing by Stephen King. Great blend of practical advice and up-close-and-personal King, with language as raw as a century-old barn wood.
3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Gut-level honesty by an author who’s been from nowhere to somewhere.
4. On Writing Well by William Zinsser. Considered the writer’s bible for decades. Had the privilege of having (a group) lunch with Zinsser at UO J-School. “Most people,” he told us, “don’t want to write a book, they want to have written a book.”
5. The Writing Life, The by Annie Dillard. When you need some emotional salve, Annie delivers.
6. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Even Stephen King recommends this venerable bible of language and usage. E.B. White is among my favorite essayists.
7. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. Outstanding book emphasizing form, not formula, from a proven expert.
8. The Writer’s Art by James Kilpatrick. Insight from a man who understands words as well as anyone.
9. The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Phillip Lopate. Best book on essay-writing, period. Worth it for Lopate’s meaty introduction alone.
10. Pebble in the Water by, well, me. For those who think writing is only about fingers on a keyboard, a look at the broader world of research, hope, crushed hope and trying to finish a book while a 75-mph wind is blowing your beach cabin’s roof off or trying to communicate with the French in Normandy. The good news? As writers we change the world in small but significant ways.


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