Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bookish gifts for writerly types:

Christmas is on its way, which for most of us means gift-giving, which for some means shopping anxiety. For me, the only anxiety about Christmas shopping is keeping to a minimal budget. But I love the activity itself, and I love hearing what ideas others have come up with to bless and cherish the people they treasure. Here are my favourite picks for the writerly people in your life. I promise I've test-driven each selection.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser This one is a classic for a reason. Originally based on a college nonfiction writing course, the book is divided into chapters that are themselves sorted into useful sections: principles, methods, and forms. Zinsser's crisp but warm teaching style discusses the nuts and bolts of nonfiction writing in depth and then provides specific advice related to different nonfiction disciplines, whether it be sports writing, memoir, or travel journalism. The final segment of the book, however, delves into writerly attitudes, and it's as much about being a writer as it is about doing writing. This is the kind of book you dip back into to refresh your memory (and your motivation).

Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark My mother found this one for me and it's like a complete little writing workshop in a book. The fifty chapters provide fifty writing guidelines which range from the intensely practical ("Begin sentences with subjects and words") to the motivational ("Limit self-criticism in early drafts") to just really good craft ("Know when to back off and when to show off"). Each chapter also offers accompanying activities so you can try out the stuff you're learning. This book would appeal to newbie writers but there's lots of meat for old hands, too.

The Elements of Style by Strunk & White, ill. by Maira Kalman People seem to get a shock when they realise that the White half of the Strunk & White writing team is actually E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. But it's true, and that just makes this little book all the cooler. Another writing classic, this book is pure craft and yet it proves its own rules over and over again. If you think a book about punctuation, grammar, and word usage will be dull and dry, this book will make you... unthink that. It's subtly funny and just solidly good advice. Plus, this edition has gorgeous full-colour illustrations by Maira Kalman (vivid and amazing and occasionally just vaguely unsettling) which makes it basically a picture book about writing. What more could anybody ask for? I mean, seriously.

Now Write!: Fiction Writing Exercises from Today's Best Writers and Teachers edited by Sherry Ellis I've been dipping into this one a bit over the last few weeks as I try to edge my way back into some writing that's not dictated by professors and university deadlines. The irony of this is that the book is composed of fiction-writing assignments created by great professors at universities. (Yes. I didn't put that together until right now.) This book is a lot of fun because a bunch of seriously good writers sat down and write a little about craft and then provided us with prompts to get us going. But it's not simply the "You find a mysterious object. What is it?" kind of prompt. These are prompts that push the writer deeper into the core elements of writing craft -- aspects like pacing, characterisation, dialogue, and revision. It's educational but it's also fun. (And I just noticed that there's a nonfiction counterpart covering memoir, journalism, and creative nonfic. Family members, feel free to take note of the fact that I don't own this book and jot this down for possible future birthdayness).

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King This one was recommended to me a trillion times before I finally got myself a copy. And of course it was perfect and I should have read it five years earlier. Revision is something that has always overwhelmed me. Short pieces are fine, but looking at a first or second draft novel and contemplating how to wade into the mountain of muck and cull the good from the bad is frankly terrifying. Self-editing for Fiction Writers wades through that muck with the writer, taking you through the editing process from big picture to the finer details. This is an excellent read especially for anyone who thinks editing is synonymous with correcting typos and punctuation (in case you're wondering: it's so much more than that).

Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose This is a book I know I've discussed before, but it's just so good. The title sums it up sufficiently, but essentially Reading Like A Writer encourages the writer to read deeply and read not just for the story or the information, but for the craft, to look beneath the words and recognise the structure of the story, the criss-crossing architecture that made the work solid (or shaky). The text itself however is a beautiful read on its own, and the author's rapturous dips into various great stories makes the act of reading it something akin to trawling a library for hours and dipping into all the best passages of beloved books.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss Sometimes snarky and always funny, this book, supposedly "the zero tolerance approach to punctuation" is really just a celebration of good punctuation, well-employed. Those who struggle with punctuation will learn a thing or two, but those who turn into an enormous green rage monster at the sight of such literary beauties as "MANGOE'S: TWO FOR $5 DOLLARS" will get a smug sort of satisfaction from seeing themselves as the upper echelon of textual intelligence. Either way, it's just a really great book. Oh, and there's a hardback children's version which is hilarious.

There's my list of bookish recommendations for the writer you love. What would be on your list?


  1. Oo! Oo! A new post from Danielle? Yes, please! Books about writing? Added to my wish list! Thank you!

  2. My goodness, you wrote a lot of posts while I was sleeping on the floor of a stone hut in rural Azerbaijan!

    I would add Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, which gives hilarious, humble advice on things like writer's block, taking yourself (too) seriously, and the importance of community. Probably the best writing book I've read. Though I have yet to read several on your list.


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