I started writing in earnest at the age of 11 when, after a bout of glandular fever I was advised to rest and not do any PE or sports at school for a while (imagine my joy!). Instead I was sent to the biology prep room – a small room full of jars of weird things in formaldehyde and half-dissected frogs on boards. It was there, while sat on a small wooden chair, that I started my first novel about ancient Crete (needless to say, many thought me to be a strange child!).
Since then I have written poetry, short stories, novellas and novels, I’ve gained a Masters in creative writing and had several non-fiction books published. Yet, despite that, there are days when I feel I don’t know a thing about writing.
Which is why I keep learning my craft – every day, 365 days a year (366 in a leap year). The very best way is to read… read authors in your chosen genre or field. See how they handle structure, dialogue, pace etc, and learn. This does not mean that you will be slavishly copying them (heaven forbid), but it does mean that you get a ringside seat into what makes that author succesful. Just as important is to practice. And then practice some more. The more I write, the more I improve. When I look at pieces written only a couple of years ago, I can see the difference to what I produce now (and I thought that what I wrote was pretty good at the time!).
I also have a couple of shelves of writing books – some brilliant, some cringe-worthy and many in the middle. Even if I have read them before, I often go back and reread (the good ones anyway) and nine times out of ten I’ll either see something useful that I had forgotten or else I see something that I’m sure wasn’t there the first time around!
The whole message of this post is, never stop learning. Never feel, as a writer, that you have reached your peak and that no-one can teach you anything more. That way lies delusion and disappointment.
Some of the books I consider to be absolute gems are below.
Rewriting: A Creative Approach to Writing Fiction (Books for Writers) by David Michael Kaplan.
This one is permanently by my side at the moment while I redraft. Rewriting is an important part of creating a story that is often overlooked or not emphasized enough by how to write book. Make no mistake, rewriting or redrafting is essential, and this book is one of the best I have found on the process.
Written by a top agent who knows the business upside down. Invaluable advice to those seeking publication on how the whole business works and how to go about it all the right way.
Walking on Alligators (Meditations for Writers) by Susan Shaughnessy
Out of the same stable as Meditations for Women (when it was called Meditations for Writers), this is a wonderful book full of quotations from writers about writing. It has been an inspiration, a motivator and a consoler for me at various stages of my writing life.
The Nuts and Bolts of Writing by Michael Legat
Great book for those little grammar rules you’re not quite sure about.
Invaluable for the same reasons as above.
Write to be Published by Nicola Morgan
Last but definitely not least! One of the most level-headed, useful, and amusing books on writing and submitting book proposals that I have come across. Another person who knows what she is on about! Her latest book on how to write a great synopsis, called, funnily enough, Write a Great Synopsis, should be out this week! See here for details.