10 great writing books from 2010
A literary roundup to help you enhance your craft, feed your muse, or guide your holiday gift-giving
Published: December 2, 2010
|We at The Writer work hard all year round to bring you reviews of great writing books that provide “advice and inspiration for today’s writer.” Among the 30 or so books we’ve featured in 2010 have been practical manuals to help improve your writing skills (The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel: A Step-by-Step Guide to Perfecting Your Work), books to refresh your grammar (The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English), books filled with insightful interviews from successful writers (Tales From the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories), and books that inspire by revealing important truths about the challenges of the writing life (Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life).|
While we seek to be your trusted source for suggestions about new writing books, we can’t possibly cover this massive landscape in the limited space we have (numerous writing books are published each year). As the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 12:12, “of making many books there is no end,” but our time (and editorial space) is limited. So we make choices as best we can, knowing full well we can’t cast our net over all the freshly spawned writing books that constantly wash upon our shores. To help widen our net, we’ve pulled together a list of 10 outstanding writing books, the ones that almost got away. Whether you’re reading for your own pleasure, seeking to enhance your writing skills by incorporating the advice of experienced practitioners, looking for inspiration to get you through the rough patches, or simply searching for great, writer-friendly gifts for the holidays, this crop of terrific books should feed your appetite.
The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club
by Maeve Binchy. Anchor, 304 pages. Paper or digital, $14.95. |
The bestselling Irish novelist believes that “everyone is capable of telling a story.” She offers practical advice on crafting memorable fiction, while providing suggestions on living the writer’s life. In chapters like “Getting Started” and “Finding Your Voice,” Binchy emphasizes the sacrifices needed to finish a work of fiction: “Time [for writing] doesn’t appear from nowhere,” she says. “You have to make time, and that means giving up something else.” Binchy’s voice is supportive throughout, but she reminds novices that great writing is “1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Her practical, inspiring how-to is like a friend who’s already climbed the mountaintop and wants you to reach the summit, too.
Views From the Loft
edited by Daniel Slager. Milkweed Editions, 352 pages. Paper or digital, $20. |
These author essays and interviews about writing and publication bring together the collected wisdom of Minneapolis’ Loft Literary Center—its authors, students and editors—providing writers at all levels with the tools and inspiration needed to thrive in the writing life. The dozens of well-established authors who discuss their craft include National Book Award-winning poet Mark Doty, Newbery Medal- winning children’s author Kate DiCamillo, and critically acclaimed novelist Michael Cunningham. The many writer-friendly topics covered include the representation of family members in memoir, the uses of personal experience in writing fiction, and self-editing your work. Valuable tips for anyone who puts pen to paper.
Navigating the Rough Waters of Today’s Publishing World
by Marcia Meier. Linden Publishing, 130 pages. Paper, $14.95. |
This accessible, concise road map to the publishing industry offers an in-depth look at the impact of emerging technologies on publishing (in the future, Meier writes, “almost everything published will move to an online format”), as well as the important differences between fiction and nonfiction publishing. Additionally, the author covers how to work effectively with agents, maximize marketing and promotional opportunities, and get published in magazines, newspapers and online. Meier is an award-winning journalist, as well as the former director of the prestigious Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Her book is an invaluable reference for anyone seeking to plot a course for publishing success.
Writers Gone Wild
by Bill Peschel. Perigee, 272 pages. Paper, $14.95. |
Literary critic Peschel guides us on an entertaining, gossipy romp through the dark side of the writing life, describing the bad behavior of some of the world’s most renowned authors. We watch a pugnacious Ernest Hemingway punching out book critics and poets, and we observe drunken poet Dylan Thomas in the middle of barroom brawls, then nearly getting killed by machine gunfire aimed at his Welsh home. We encounter novelist Norman Mailer squaring off against literary rivals and his own wife, and we witness tempestuous poet Sylvia Plath biting the cheek of her poet husband Ted Hughes during one of their many marital spats. Who said writers lead dull lives?
How to Write for Children and Get Published
by Louise Jordan, Piatkus Books, 192 pages. Paper, $13.95. |
Legions of people want to write for kids, but it’s extremely tough to find a publisher in this hyper-competitive area. Jordan, who’s worked in children’s publishing for more than 25 years, knows the territory well and offers loads of advice, useful resources, and inspiration in her practical guide. Readers get the latest information on market trends and valuable advice on a wide range of topics, including developing your book ideas, themes and style; presenting book proposals and manuscripts; and approaching publishers and agents. Plus, Jordan explains what you need to know once your book has been accepted for publication. This concise guide will help your work stand out in the crowded marketplace for children’s books.
100 Words Almost Everyone Mixes Up or Mangles
by the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries. Houghton Mifflin, 128 pages. Paper, $5.95. |
Nobody likes to make mistakes, but some words seem more error-prone than others. The editors of American Heritage Dictionaries ride to the rescue, pointing out where the most common verbal land mines are buried and helping you navigate safely around them. You can “delegate” a problem, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you “relegate” it. “Poring” over a book and “pouring” over it are quite different: the first leads to learning, the second to a liquefied mess. With this book in hand, writers can avoid the howlers that stop readers in their tracks. Each easily confused word and word pairing is given a lighthearted explanation for its correct usage.
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published
by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. Workman Publishing, 480 pages. Paper, $14.95.|
Written by two veteran publishing insiders (Eckstut is a literary agent, Sterry a book doctor), this real-world guidebook demystifies the entire publishing process, showing you how to create an effective book proposal, comprehend the legal complexities of a book contract, develop the publicity skills you’ll need to succeed, and, if necessary, self-publish. There’s lengthy advice on using the Web to market your book, and even help with producing a video book trailer. The authors include interviews with hundreds of publishing insiders and writers. This valuable how-to also offers sample book proposals, query letters and more.
Naked, Drunk, and Writing
by Adair Lara. Ten Speed Press, 256 pages. Paper or digital, $14.99. |
Nobody knows you better than you, so why is it so hard to write well about yourself? After all, memoirs and personal essays are among the most popular genres in today’s publishing world. Lara can help: She’s an award-winning author and journalist, and a veteran writing teacher. Naked, Drunk, and Writing is packed with insights and practical advice, answering big questions like: How do I find autobiographical ideas and write about them in a compelling way? How do I make myself write when I’m too scared or busy? How do I write about my family and friends without having them all angry with me? If you want to write about your own life, Lara’s a great writing mentor.
The Creative Life
by Julia Cameron, Tarcher/Penguin, 256 pages. Hardcover, $23.95; digital, $10.99. |
Veteran creativity guru Cameron (The Artist’s Way), who’s written more than 30 books in her distinguished career, shows us that creativity flourishes during the quiet pauses in our lives. It’s only when we allow ourselves to slow down and savor life that we discover ways to depict it sensitively. As the poet William Wordsworth once described it, great art “is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings ... emotion recollected in tranquility.” That’s true for poetry, fiction and all creative work. By opening a window onto her own life and the lives of the artists she knows, Cameron reveals a world rich with creative possibility to inspire the rest of us.
The Thieves of Manhattan
by Adam Langer. Spiegel & Grau, 272 pages. Paper or digital, $15. |
A hilarious satire of the publishing industry and a skewering of its chase-the-latest-trend mentality, this novel’s antihero is aspiring writer Ian Minot, who toils in a New York City diner dreaming of literary stardom. Outraged because he can’t get published while a slew of “no talent” writers succeed, Ian’s literary jealousy is pushed to the edge when he suspects that a bestselling memoir about drug addiction written by Blade Markham (a rival who will ultimately steal his girlfriend) is a complete fabrication. A frustrated Ian becomes absolutely unhinged when his Romanian girlfriend easily finds a publisher for her short stories. Great fictional fun for anyone who’s been frustrated by the mysteries of publishing success or failure.
|Chuck Leddy, a contributing editor at The Writer, is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. His book reviews appear regularly in The Boston Globe, and he has also contributed to The Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle.|
(This article appeared in the December 2010 issue of The Writer.)