Books on Writing

There are some amazing books on writing. These are just a few of my favourites…

On Writing by Stephen King

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 09.32.42An intimate autobiographical portrait of his home life, his family and his traumatic accident. Citing examples of his work and those of his contemporaries, King gives an excellent masterclass on writing – how to use the tools of the trade from building characters to pace and plotting as well as practical advice on presentation. And King tells readers how he got to be a No. 1 bestseller for a quarter of a century with fascinating descriptions of his own process, the origins and development of, among others, Carrie and Misery.

My favourite quotes from this book:

‘Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.’

‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.’

‘Just remember that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.’


Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood Negotiating with the DeadLooking back on her own childhood and the development of her writing career, Margaret Atwood examines the metaphors which writers of fiction and poetry have used to explain – or excuse! – their activities, looking at what costumes they have seen fit to assume, what roles they have chosen to play. And if a writer is to be seen as ‘gifted’, who is doing the giving and what are the terms of the gift?

My favourite quotes from this book:

‘It was like finding yourself in a great library as a young writer, and gazing around at the thousands of books in it and wondering if you really have anything of value to add.’

‘Keats was not killed by a bad review. Get back on the horse that threw you.’

How Fiction Works by James Wood

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 09.34.55A study of the magic of fiction – an analysis of its main elements and a celebration of its lasting power. This book looks into the machinery of storytelling to ask some fundamental questions: What do we mean when we say we ‘know’ a fictional character? What constitutes a telling detail? When is a metaphor successful? Is Realism realistic? Why do some literary conventions become dated while others stay fresh?

My favourite quote from this book:

‘Literature makes us better noticers of life; we get to practice on life itself; which in turn makes us better readers of detail in literature; which in turn makes us better readers of life.’


‘The Getaway Car’, from This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Pachett

Getaway Car Ann PatchettA terrific memoir of Ann Pachett’s life as a writer. She talks at length about her literary career and shares advice on the craft and art of writing. Woven through engaging anecdotes from Patchett’s life are lessons about writing that offer an inside peek into the storytelling process and provide a blueprint for anyone wanting to give writing a serious try. She gives pointers on everything from finding ideas to constructing a plot to combating writer’s block.

My favourite quotes from this book:

‘The journey from the head to the hand is perilous and lined with bodies. It is the road on which nearly everyone who wants to write – and many of the people who do write – get lost.’

‘Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art, you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing.’


The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris

Weekend novelistThis is a useful handbook. It answers the basic questions about plot, structure, character etc., and it also shows you how to fit writing around a full-time job.

My favourite quote from this book:

‘Drama in your novel starts with character. What does she want? How badly does she want it? What will she give up to get it?’

Author and editor of books for children and young people