Summer is drawing to a close—don’t shoot the messenger!—but thankfully, there’s still one month left. For those of us who have extra free time during the summer months, whether due to school break or reduced work hours, that’s 4 full weeks to give our writing craft some extra TLC. And if you’re like me and typically salivate after back-to-school notebook sales this time of year, then what better time to stock up on a few marbles or spirals, grab a writer’s guide, and get to work—fall semester style?
Many of us graduate high school or college and take the reins with our own work, but every now and then, it can be helpful to return to some kind of formal instruction. Writing is a hard thing to teach (and learn) in a classroom setting, but one thing I love about writing guides is that, unlike classes, they’re one-on-one experiences can be tackled at your own pace.
So to help you get started, I’ve compiled 5 writing guides here that I think have a lot to teach, plus a bonus podcast class! I have experience with and highly recommend each of these works; for simplicity’s sake, I’ll list them in order of recommended to MUST reads.
- The Writer’s Idea Workshop. This was my first foray into fiction writing guides as a teen. It was not long after I had decided I wanted to be A Writer, and upon an impromptu trip to a Barnes & Noble that actually had a section dedicated to writing manuals, I thought I’d give one a try. The Writer’s Idea Workshop caught my eye and, quickly grabbing a rare open seat in the café, I dove into it while my family shopped.
The Writer’s Idea Workshop is everything you come to expect from a writing guide: lessons, action points, questions, and assignments. The thing that I admired most about it was that, while it had a good deal of knowledge and advice to offer, it put more emphasis on getting the reader to write rather than keeping them there reading page after page.
- Immediate Fiction. This was a required workbook in one of my college creative writing classes. And while I cringed at the title—is there really any such thing as “immediate fiction?”—I found myself to be pleasantly surprised at how helpful this book was. It hooked me from the introduction, where Cleaver does an excellent job of speaking in a conversational writer-to-writer voice that sets the tone for an enjoyable and not “preachy” learning experience.
Though my class didn’t work through the entire book, I found the prompts to be interesting and useful. Like most manuals, it does treat writing as a fixed step-by-step process, which many writers may disagree with—but that didn’t take away from the positive experience I had.
- The Writember Workbook. This is one of my favorite writing guides of all time, and not just because it was written by our co-founder. Whereas The Writer’s Idea Workshop focuses on the “spark” and development of ideas and Immediate Fiction focuses on the writing process, The Writember Workbook is dedicated to helping writers take the very first step before any of that: making writing a habit.
It’s been said before and will be said a billion times over: you can’t be a writer unless you write. Thanks to her unique background as a psychology graduate, Faye is able to take a look at the bare bones of habits and how we form them in order to help the reader become a more regular writer. For something we love so much, we find a lot of creative ways to avoid it—and Faye’s e-guide, complete with worksheets, a Facebook support group, and regular pep talk emails, does a great job of stripping us of all our excuses and helping us both find and make time to write.
- The Elements of Style. Chances are you’ve heard of this one, and for good reason. Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is an iconic guide to grammar and proper writing that doesn’t once step into the boring territory of your sophomore English class. This one was a required guide in my advanced placement English class senior year of high school, and many of its lessons still stick with me today.
Our teacher at the time used the guide to supplement our lessons and gauge how our writing was changing and improving. His style, just like Strunk and White’s, was dry and abrasive and hilariously devoid of BS (there was even a “Wall of Shame” put up on the blackboard after each round of essays was graded, displaying anonymous sentences pulled from the essays that blatantly ignored Strunk and White’s advice). This is a short guide that cuts to the chase because, just like in any good writing, there’s no room for unnecessary fluff.
- On Writing. Easily my favorite and, in my opinion, a must-read for any writer regardless of their taste or distaste for Stephen King’s fiction. Part memoir, part writing guide, On Writing has become nothing short of my writing bible. This one isn’t a workbook and doesn’t come with writing prompts or homework, but it is chock full of advice that’s going to resonate with everything you write.
From avoiding excessive use of adverbs to revising and submitting your work, King has sage advice for the entire process of writing and publishing fiction. He’s not apologetic, though, and he’s a workaholic—just look at how many books he’s written—so don’t expect to get any sympathy or handholding here.
BONUS: The Writing Excuses Master Class! I’ve been a regular listener of the Writing Excuses Podcast for a little over a year now, so when season 10 went live with the announcement that it would be acting as a novel writing master class, I had a bit of a fangirl moment. In case you aren’t familiar, Writing Excuses is a podcast hosted by acclaimed authors Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. Episodes are released every Sunday and are approximately 15 minutes long, making them the perfect listen for a quick commute or a brief window of free time in your otherwise busy schedule.
Episodes range in topic from planning to writing to publishing and everything in-between; there are even episodes dedicated to helping writers navigate networking situations like conventions, as well as tips on proper online and in-person etiquette (hint: always be professional). In short, if it’s anything to do with writing or being a writer, they talk about it.
Season 10 of the show takes listeners step-by-step through the process of writing a novel. I personally lost steam with it after the first few weeks earlier this year, but only because I was already working on a project that has been in the works for a few years. When I look into beginning a new novel, though, this is going to be my first stop.
Even if you aren’t in the market for a new idea, consider giving the podcast a try. The hours of advice buried in those archives are invaluable, and even if they don’t have anything new to teach you (doubtful), they’re incredibly enjoyable and inspiring listens.
Do you have a preferred writing guide or workshop that’s helped shape you as a writer? Do you plan on picking any of these up or attempting the Writing Excuses Workshop? Let us know!