Even if in your field you’re a top performer, there’s something you can never stop doing if you want to stay on top of your game. That’s training, practicing.
Training is what allows you to hone your natural skills and make them as effective as possible.
As a matter of fact, any performance is the result of the interplay of the basic set of your skills and the way you work on them.
However, if you’re just 5 feet tall and you want to play basketball at NBA level you have a chance in a billion of that ever happening, even if you train at the best of your possibilities.
Luckily, in many other activities where the importance of physical features is not so important — as in writing — you probably have a larger margin for improvement.
However, even once you reach mastery in your own field, you have to keep training. Both to improve — though at an ever slower rate — and to prevent any regression.
Of course, we’ve all heard stories of alcoholics writers who nonetheless produced notable works all the same. Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, Patricia Highsmith, Tennessee Williams… The list could go on for a long while.
However, the truth is that most of these writers never ceased to read and work to improve their craft. In addition, they produced their most important works despite their addictions, not necessarily thanks to them. So much so that for many of them the moment their addictions worsened so did their literary production.
As a result, the sooner you reject the old lie about how creative genius is inextricably linked to a dissipated way of life, the better.
The following is a list of the Best Books on Writing Fiction I’ve read over the last couple of years and have found particularly useful. They’re books for people who’re willing to roll up their sleeves and spit in their hands and set to work. I share this list here hoping you too can find some interesting gems.
As always, as it is for rules and any kind of advice in general, what has worked for me might not for you. But even in such a case you get to know a bit better what type of a writer you are — and that’s good.
Best Books on Writing Fiction
The Mental Game of Writing by James Scott Bell
This is a book aimed at absolute beginners. It’s full of sensible advice that, if properly digested, will allow any beginning writer to start their writing journey with a better idea of what writing really entails.
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
Same author but a more technical and practical book. It offers plenty of practical advice on ways to make your writing stronger. Not from the point of view of style. But from that of story. What it is and how to structure it in the most economical and effective way.
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
This is a book full of interesting examples about the way writing rules have to be understood, deployed, and adapted to the needs of the different stories. It doesn’t offer practical solutions, so in my opinion it’s not aimed at absolute beginners. But the examples are all so interesting I’ve ended up bookmarking a lot of titles. (My To Be Read list is already huge, but there’s nothing I can do about it. If a book seems worth it I must add it nonetheless. It’s a matter of fairness.)
Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker
The debate about outlining and pantsing is as old as the hills. This book is about outlining. Not against pantsing. In fact the author’s main argument is simply that outlining (or at least a certain degree of outlining) can help every writer to be more productive. She offers a way to outline. But, again, ultimately you can come up with your own way to outline a book.
I must say I’ve been a pantser forever. But over the last couple years or so I’ve begun to reconsider certain assumptions about plotting. In any case, an informed choice is often better than a choice you make without having all the relevant data at your disposal. So go and check it out.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
Ok. This is not a book about writing. It’s a book about how to effectively develop habits. Now, if there’s something any writer is always desperately in need for is exactly that. A habit. Or better, a good writing habit, something, anything, able to help them ferry into reality all those ideas that float about in their mind. As an additional note I must say I found the writer’s style extremely clean and clear.