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TOP 5

Here are five of our favorite books on writing.
Check back for new additions or suggest your own below.

01

On Writing

Stephen King is nothing if not prolific. As someone who has published over 50 novels, he is intimately connected with the vicissitudes of the writing life. He notes that “Writing is refined thinking.” And in this book, which is part memoir, he discusses not only the process of writing, but also its tools, including the role of grammar and the importance of the paragraph. The result is both illuminating and pragmatic. 

 

02

The Writing Life

This sliver of a book by Annie Dillard slices through the sentimentality that can sometimes characterize the act of writing, while still upholding its numinousness.  Such a perspective is especially useful for the writer who is midway in the struggle toward a complete draft, when the loss of energy or hope menaces further progress.  “One of the few things I know about writing is this,” Dillard declares.  “Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now….Something more will arise for later, something better.  These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.” 

 

03

The Elements of Style

The classic remains a classic.  Yes, in our digital age some things have changed—such as a greater reluctance to deploy the apostrophe.  However, from said punctuation to word placement, and cases and tenses, there are few more effective guides to unpacking the constituents of a sentence than this work by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.  A must for young writers and those who are intent on breaking the rules.  Here they are.  Have at it.

 

04

Writing With Power

Peter Elbow’s more recent classic remains valuable because it addresses the work in progress.  That is, it offers insight on everything from how to kindle creativity through freewriting (where you "write without stopping for ten minutes") to voice, audience, and soliciting feedback.  A great deal of the book is devoted to the many stages of revision, where the real work of writing is done.  In any case, who could resist a volume with a chapter on the perils of returning to reengage the early draft entitled “Nausea?”

 

05

The Price of the Ticket

James Baldwin writes with an honesty that scalds and provokes.  His prose is never flaccid.  He never wastes the all important “I” of the first person on the insipid or self-serving.  It’s the “I” of intention.  As a result, his words have fuel in them.  They power change.  They insist that we listen. 

 

Anyone contemplating the challenge of a personal statement should read Baldwin, particularly the essay “Notes of a Native Son,” included in this volume.  But The Price of the Ticket, which is a collection of his nonfiction essays from 1948-1985, offers literary criticism along with social critique and a chance to witness what he surmised to be true: “that every life moves full circle—towards revelation.”

 

 

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