Top 10 Writing Books for Christmas

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I began my writing life as a clandestine affair--meeting the keyboard in secret for many months before confiding my wayward passion to my husband. I wasn’t entirely sure that he would understand—feared he might roll his eyes, or--worse--laugh at this fragile love affair. Of course, he did neither, just nodded his head and encouraged. That year for my birthday, he gave me the most thoughtful of gifts: my first book on writing. It was a simple manuscript and it introduced this newbie to the strange and exciting world of publishing.

This Christmas we’d like to help you delight the writer on your list. Our panel of experts has been polled and we’ve put together a list of our favorite writing books. Happy shopping!

1. The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation Into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron.

You knew this one would be at the top of the list, didn’t you? If you did not follow along with our book club posts last summer, you missed something special. Cameron gives practical advice and great prompts that inspire. I adore this book.

2. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.

Truly, any of Annie Dillard’s books are a study on great writing. This one gives some insights into her particular writing patterns. It’s more a slice of life than a “how-to”, but what a treat to have an inside peek at brilliance.

3. On Writing by Stephen King.

Another peek into brilliance, King’s memoir is entertaining and humorous. The author shares stories that highlight how his creative storytelling was born. One word to the wise: Mr. King’s voice is punctuated by what we would call a “potty mouth” in our house. Those who are troubled by profanity would not enjoy this aspect of the book.

4. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner.

Considered a classic writer’s handbook by many, this book challenges the writer to a standard of excellence. There are exercises in the back for practical application. And it's not just for "young" writers.

5. Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by Natasha Wimmer.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature recipient writes a series of letters to an aspiring novelist instructing the unknown writer in the principles that make a successful novel.

6. Pencil Dancing: New Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit by Mari Messer

This book is designed to help unlock creativity. Messer does not limit her instruction to writing, but rather describes techniques to awaken creativity for various art forms and vocations.

7. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner.

Lerner shares stories from her vast experience in the publishing industry that help writers hone the craft and gain publication. The first half of the book is dedicated to writing and the second half to publishing. One reviewer described the author’s writing style: She's as funny as Anne Lamott, and as personal as Natalie Goldberg.

8. Plot and Structure: (Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers From Start to Finish) by James Scott Bell.

Award-winning thriller and suspense author James Scott Bell give us a great nuts and bolts book to master these essential elements (and everything in between!) of story.

9. The Writer’s Book of Hope: Getting from Frustration to Publication by Ralph Keyes.

This book helps the writer tackle anxiety, frustration, discouraging individuals, and excuses to avoid writing, and numerous other factors that keep one from pursuing a satisfying writing life.

10. The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life by Vinita Hampton Wright.

Publisher’s Weekly says, of Vinita Wright: Think Julia Cameron meets Madeleine L'Engle. Wright, an acclaimed novelist, discusses creativity in the life of a Christian, and Christianity in the life of a creative person.

Over the years I have learned that there is no fool-proof primer on writing. What the experts say is true: if you want to be a better writer—read, read, read. Annie Dillard says, the writer studies literature, not the world. He lives in the world, he cannot miss it…He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know.

That said, if you have a budding writer on your Christmas list, he or she will discover this wisdom eventually. Your job is to support and encourage. Gifting them with a writing book is one valuable way to do this.

What are your favorite writing books? Share your thoughts in the comment section about any writing resources you would recommend. Widgets

I'm very excited to announce the book we have selected for our next book club, set to start on Monday, January 3, 2011: The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God (featuring our own Ann Voskamp!). Looking forward to sharing this feast with you.

Photo by boadiceafairy, used with permission. Post by Laura Boggess, author of the Wings of Klaio series.

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