Reviews · Writing

Recommendations from the Writing Shelf

I’m proud to say that over the years I’ve acquired a lovely little collection of writing books. It only takes up a single shelf, covers a variety of topics, and gives me inspiration and strength when I need it. Writing books, while not necessary to write, often cover the basics of setting, plot, character development, etc. That’s usually not the kind of writing book that I buy. I buy the ones to help me learn and grow as a writer, books with helpful tips or insider knowledge, and most of the time I pick up something new every time I open a copy.


So from my shelf I picked five of the books that I recommend the most for a variety of reasons, and I hope that you’ll find them as helpful as I have!


First, the basics. Often if your manuscript doesn’t even look right an editor won’t read it. It’ll get thrown in the trash, ignored forever, all because you didn’t format it correctly. That’s why I love my copy of Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript by Chuck Sambuchino and the Editors of Writer’s Digest Books. I have the third edition and I reference it all the time. It covers every part that you might need to submit for any type of writing. Online queries for a novel? Check. Short story submissions? Got it. Picture books? Covered. No matter what type of writing you have, if you want it to be published and look professional I recommend checking out this book and getting the basics right.


I think one of my favorite parts of the writing process is naming my characters. No joke. I love names and naming so much that I wish I could just have a job standing around and naming newborn babies. That’s probably not going to happen, but my characters will always have good names. I have a gigantic baby name book (as seen in the shelf picture), but this unique little book is my current favorite. It’s called Bring Back Beatrice! 1,108 Baby Names with Meaning, Character, and a Little Bit of Attitude by Jennifer Griffin. It has those unusual, classic, or out-of-favor names that seem to be very popular nowadays in young adult fiction (Hazel and Augustus, anyone?). Anytime I’m at a loss for a name I’ll flip through my copy and find some kind of inspiration. Plus, you know, when the time comes to name an actual human I’ll have had lots of practice.


My newest acquisition, The Amazing Story Generator: Creates Thousands of Writing Prompts by Jason Sacher, is so much fun. It’s like those old flip books where you can change the head, body, and legs of a person to create weird people, except this is with story prompts. Instead of a head you have a condition (something from the past, backstory, disease, etc.), instead of a body you have a character (a job, a creature, etc.), and instead of legs you have the basic plot (action, climax, etc.). This creates a variety of story possibilities and fun combinations. Even if it doesn’t create an award-winning novel, the very least this novel can do is make you laugh. I think that this book is perfect for those dealing with writer’s block, because a simple one hundred word story from this book would probably be enough to get those creative juices going again.


Bullies, Bastards, & Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Page Morrell was a godsend when I felt blocked with my novel. I didn’t really have a main antagonist and I didn’t know what I was doing with all of my ‘bad’ guys, but after reading this book I realized that I had a variety of different types of villains, and that that was a good thing. This book gives insight into all of the dastardly bastards that have crossed pages, and shows different motivations. If you have trouble fleshing out villains beyond a mustache-twirler in a trench coat then this book is definitely for you. Bad guys are people too! They just do less-than-savory things.


Lastly, Will Write for Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel by Cathy Yardley is a surprising pick for my recommendations off of a shelf full of good books. This was an unexpected gift, and it’s a genre that I barely read and rarely write, but it’s one that I think I could get into one day. This book helped me get over my fear of too-feminine characters, and it also showed me that, yes, your heroine can love Starbucks, shopping, and Grey’s Anatomy, but she can also be a CEO or airplane pilot. When reading this book (which does navigate you through the history of chick lit as well as some of the tropes) I feel confident in creating strong female characters, regardless of what genre they’re in. While geared toward chick lit and fiction for an older audience than I target, a lot of its advice can be applied toward young adult contemporary romance—which is a huge seller right now.

There are even more writing books out there that I’d love to have, but for now I’m perfectly happy with my little collection. Are there any books that have helped your writing?

Also, just a note, but I do have to agree with my Fiction professor. The Writer’s Market books, while helpful and full of good agents, publishers, and editors, are ridiculously expensive (especially for starving, college students)—especially since they come out annually. Instead do your research, visit websites, or (like I did) ask for them for holidays so you don’t have to buy them yourself.