Clutter vs. Keepers: 5 Writing Books You’ll Never Let Go Of

So,  how many of these will you ever actually read again?” my husband asked as he tripped over the stupidly huge piles of books obscuring the bedroom floor.  Considering there were more than I could count, I opted to plead the fifth.

Like a lot of writers, I compulsively collect books – especially ones that promise to jumpstart my imagination, kill writers block and make me a genius storyteller.  But given that I was about three paperbacks away from securing a starring role on Hoarders, I reluctantly decided to whittle down my literary stash.

The upside of this purging of the pages was that I rediscovered several gems that I (and maybe you) can’t live without.  Not only did they shape my outlook on writing, story craft and creativity from the first reading, they have drawn me back time and again whenever I need a shot of inspiration or education.

May I present to you (in no particular order) my Fab Five:

1. Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

It’s no secret that everyone loves a great tale.  But it turns out that there is far more to it that just seeking entertainment and escape.  Our brains are literally hardwired to become immersed in story, and have been since our Stone Age ancestors first sat around bragging about hunting wooly mammoths.

Cron does a masterful job of explaining the neuroscience behind this theory, but more importantly she reveals what the brain craves from every tale it encounters and how you can use these secrets to hook your reader from page one.

2. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Being that TAW has been a bestseller for over 20 years, I’m obviously not the only one who feels this is the ultimate guide to living the creative life.  Cameron offers plenty of great insights and exercises, but her two main tenets are Morning Pages and Artist Dates.

When I keep up with those two simple practices, new story ideas, characters and serendipitous opportunities seem to pop out of nowhere.  When I fall off the map with them?  Ouch.

3. Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

Whether you’ve been struggling with your novel or haven’t even started because you have no earthly clue where to begin, this book is for you.  A former screenwriter and current bestselling author, Brooks teaches what he calls “The 6 Core Competencies of Storytelling,” and that structure and planning are just as important as artistry when it comes to telling a compelling story.

Following any sort of formula may seem like a recipe for sucking the spontaneity right out of your writing process, but it actually has the opposite effect.  When you develop a roadmap for your story, you still have the freedom to take detours along the way since you know exactly where you’re going to end up.

Try it.  You’ll like it.


4. The Writing Warrior by Laraine Herring

This book came into my life when I was introduced to the author by a mutual friend.  And it was a timely meeting,  because I had been feeling like anything but a “warrior” when it came to my writing.  I was sidetracked by fear, distractions and constantly comparing myself to anyone that I viewed as more successful than me (read: everyone on the planet).

But as I dove into the book with a doubtful chip on my shoulder, I soon realized that Herring knew a thing or two about shattering illusions and self judgment and gently rebuilding the spirit that made you want to write in the first place.

She also teaches a simple 3 part practice that uses breath and physical movement coupled with free writing to help dissolve blocks and open the creative floodgates.  And much like the Morning Pages, the rewards far exceed the short amount of time you spend on the practice (about 15 minutes total).

5. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field

If you’ve ever wanted to write a screenplay – honestly – this is the only book you’ll ever need. Until his death last year, Field spent over  50 years writing about and teaching screenwriting, and has been credited with virtually inventing the three act paradigm that is the standard for feature films.

Aside from walking you step-by-step through the process of constructing your script, Field offers advice on everything from collaboration and adapting a novel for the screen to marketing the final product.  He also includes excerpts from classic films such as Chinatown to illustrate elements like scene development and setup.

No surprise, Screenplay has been translated into 16 languages and used as a textbook in more than 250 colleges across the country (which is where I first discovered it).

So, if you’ve got space on your shelves, I invite you to make one or more of these amazing reads part of your collection.  Or better yet, get them all on your Kindle.  It’ll make it a lot harder for people to accuse you of being a hoarder.

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What writing/creativity books can you never let go of? 

Main image courtesy of Ervins Strauhmanis 

15 Replies to “Clutter vs. Keepers: 5 Writing Books You’ll Never Let Go Of”

  1. I have the Larry Brooks, which is excellent, together with his Story Physics. His approach has given me the tools I was missing but knew must be out there. Stand out in terms of real and practical advice to channel your creativity towards getting published. An antidote to many of the writing advice books out there.

    Syd Field and Julia Cameron have been classics too. I’ll check out the others. I found Ursula le Guin’s steering the craft good in parts too.

    Good stuff!

    Good luck with the writing journey.

    1. @Daniel Larry Brooks was a Godsend for me. I read Story Engineering in its early stages, back when it was an eBook called Story Structure–Demystified. When I read it, it was like all the gaps from other books and writing classes were filled in. Suddenly everything made sense. I could now write a novel that worked. I give Larry full credit for changing my fiction career… for giving me a real shot at having a fiction career. How has Story Engineering changed your fiction path?

    1. @Elizabeth Couldn’t agree more! Bird-By-Bird was the book that finally made me realize that it was perfectly OK to write a shitty first draft. I wanted to scream it from the rooftops! What stuck with you the most from that book?

  2. Plan on reading “Story Engineering”. It’s been almost 2 years I’m reading your blog/website again. I hope I’m able to continue reading it whenever a post comes up.

    A little I want to share is that a friend of mine gave me a short story book to read (fiction) “Cujo” I read approximately 20 or so pages and never bothered to touch the book again. I still remember when my friend was lending the book, she told me that in order to broaden my imagination and let it flow, I needed to read fiction. But to tell you the truth I do not like fiction, have never read. Only in childhood my mom used to read fairy tales that’s all. I’m attracted more towards real-life stories, true based events, they inspire me and teach a lot. Can you, Jennifer, tell me where I should head?

    I’m an avid follower from 2008 of your first blog “Procrastinating Writers” I had even taken up an advice of morning pages that you once shared in your post. But truth be told, grew lazier and left everything. Now I’m professionally working as a ghost writer for a fitness website and seem to struggle each day with writing. Perhaps fitness ain’t my niche as I said, I like to free my mind from worldly boundaries and break-free. I wish to write about anything I feel like not topics which I’m assigned everyday. It’s like an onslaught writing on given topics. I was deeply inspired by your real-life story where you quit your job, I’m sure you could imagine what pain we endure in a full-time job.

    I’d also like to congratulate you on your marriage. Didn’t see that coming 🙂 life flies by real fast.

    1. Hi Vincent! Welcome back 🙂 I think that you should write what you love and what inspires you. If that’s real-life stories and true-based events, then that’s what you write. Not all writers are meant to write fiction. Don’t force yourself to write something that doesn’t interest or inspire you, because you’ll just end up bored and burnt out. Write what makes you come alive.

      PS. Thanks for the congrats!

  3. I know that my pick for must have book about writing is not meant towards the storyteller, is meant for the kind of writing I enjoy, articles and essays. I believe it should be a welcomed addition to anyone that is looking to compose a fetching phrase. “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” by Roy Peter Clark. This gem of a book, that I know is somewhere on my desk but I can’t find right now, is ambrosia to the aspiring wordsmith. It’s not clever or prima donnaish, on the contrary, it is matter of fact and useful. I love this book (I found it on the floor), I’ve learned a great deal from it, even if it doesn’t show by reading this paragraph.

    1. @James Thanks for the suggestion! I haven’t heard of this book, so I’m gonna have to check it out.

  4. I have to agree, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks is one of my favorites. There are 2 other books that completely changed the way I looked at the craft of storytelling:

    1. John Truby- The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller.

    2. Dara Marks- Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc.

    I own 4 of the books you mentioned. And I’m about to head over to Amazon to pick up “The Writing Warrior” TODAY. Thanks for the list.

    1. @James Likewise, I’m gonna need to get my hands on the two books that you mentioned. Thanks for sharing them with us!

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