Today, our celebration of the short story continues with a list of five books that talk about the creative process. One of the things that we love so much about the short story form is its freedom. There are no absolute rules for writing a great story. When it works, it works. But, as writers, it’s always helpful to take a break from the loneliness of our desks and read a little bit from someone else about the craft of fiction itself. Here, we present five craft books by esteemed authors on what makes a story (or a novel) succeed. So take their advice. Or don’t. It’s up to you. Either way, we hope you’ll be inspired.
This one is a classic for a reason. Since its original publication decades ago, its pages have been dog-eared by many a new writer. Part of this book’s success is in its refusal to espouse absolutes. From the first page: “Every true work of art—and thus every attempt at art (since things meant to be similar must submit to one standard)—must be judged primarily, though not exclusively, by its own laws.” Thank you, John Gardner. Thank you.
For over thirty years, Portland’s Literary Arts has been an integral part of the literary community. One of their most notable projects is their lecture series, which has featured authors including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Wallace Stegner, and Marilynne Robinson. The lectures of these three authors, along with seven others, are collected in the Tin House anthology The World Split Open. Read our review here.
Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer
This new “guide to writing imaginative fiction” from the ever-inventive Jeff VanderMeer is a wondrous object in itself. It includes drawings, maps, and visual exercises. No matter what kind of fiction you write, this is a beautiful and necessary addition to any writer’s library. Did we mention that the illustrations are amazing?
Steering the Craft features notes on the creative process by none other than the legendary Ursula K. Le Guin. This is a book that writers of any level of experience are sure to enjoy. Like any wise, seasoned writer, Le Guin shies away from imposing absolutes on her audience, while still offering often blunt advice. If nothing else, Steering the Craft is worth reading in order to witness one of our great literary minds at work.
Chances are, you’ve read at least an excerpt from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It is less a hardcore look at craft than it is a necessary and refreshing examination of what it means to be a writer. Lamott lays bare the not-so-glamorous realities of the writing life, and offers advice on how to deal with them. The bottom line: dedication. A New York Times review of the book declares: “. . . her instructions aren’t instructions at all. They’re stories, anecdotes, reminiscences, funny and sad jokes, shared experiences — in short, good writing about writing, object lessons in the craft and art, by a tough-minded veteran.” Amen.