This short list of books are ones that influenced me most. I often give them as gifts to my writer friends. It is impossible not to learn from them.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Doubleday, 1994. ISBN 0-385-48001-6. Anne Lamott's inspirational, autobiographical, anecdotal description of how she writes and teaches writing is a laugh out loud/cry out loud look at writing and writers.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. MacMillan Publishing, 1965. ISBN 0-2-418220-6. So much has been said about this skinny, little volume of writing jewels that I can add nothing to it here. Own one.
How I Work as a Poet & Other Essays by Lew Welch. Grey Fox Press, 1983. ISBN 0-912516-06-2. Welch says, "If you want to write you have to want to build things out of language and in order to do that you have to know, really know in your ear and in your tongue and, later, on the page, that language is speech. But the hard thing is that writing is not talking, so what you have to learn to do is to write as if you weretalking, and to do it knowing perfectly well you are not talking, you are writing." I return to his collection of thoughts about writing and the nature of language over and over again.
Science Fiction 101 by Robert Silverberg. ibooks, 2001. ISBN 0-7434-1294-X. A book by one of the bedrock writers in science fiction that includes the stories that turned him on to the genre with his commentary about why he thinks each story works. The book can be read as an anthology of great stories, a collection of essays on the writing of science fiction, or an autobiography of Silver Bob himself.
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. University of Oklahoma Press 1965. ISBN: 0-8061-1191-7. A straightforward look at fiction techniques from handling conflict, to creating convincing characters, to plotting, and then accurate advice on preparing manuscripts and marketing.
The 10% Solution by Ken Rand. Fairwood Press, 1998. ISBN: 0-9668184-0-7. News writer, radio reporter, copy editor and science fiction author Ken Rand's short, no-nonsense approach to editing your own work, properly applied, will do more to make your writing appear professional than anything I've seen like it. Ken's style is funny and concise. He shows you how to go through your manuscript to tighten it, emphasizing accuracy, clarity and brevity. Order from Talebones.
Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow. Oxford University Press, 1973. ISBN 0-19-501679-3. Elbow's seminal work changed how writing teachers looked at the whole art of creating words on the page. Instead of emphasizing "product" (the traditional way of teaching writing) it emphasizes "process": how real writers go about their business.
Paragons ISBN 0-312-15623-5 and Those Who Can ISBN 0-312-14139-4 edited by Robin Wilson. Both from St. Martins Griffin, 1996. Robin Wilson has gathered science fiction and fantasy stories from the very best in the field: Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Ursula K. Le Guin, Greg Bear, Pat Cadigan and numerous others, following each story with lengthy commentary from the writer. An invaluable look at the best in short fiction with insight from the writers of each.
Revising Fiction by David Madden. Penguin Books, 1988. ISBN 0-452-26414-6. Madden's approach to revising fiction is to break the topic into short chapters devoted to each problem. Chapter titles are all questions, as in "Do your characters evolve out of point of view and style?" or "Are there flaws in the structure?" Then he illustrates how professional writers handled the problem by comparing the text of their work in rough draft to the finished piece.
Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by David Gerrold. Writer's Digest Books, 2001. ISBN 1-58297-007-6. Hugo and Nebula award winning author, David Gerrold, has broken SF/F writing into interesting, informative and entertaining chapters. His examples are particularly helpful. Not just a beginner's text, the chapters on style, metric prose, memes and mastery offer advanced lessons in writing.
Books that are Worth Reading
Here is a short list of novels that are on my bookshelf, above my laptop, because they have shaped my ideas about what constitutes outstanding story and outstanding writing. If you haven't read them, read them.
Passage by Connie Willis. Connie's book about near death experience is absolutely startling from both a story standpoint and how she's structured the story. I read it in one day (which is something I haven't done with a novel in years), and I haven't thought about my brain or death in the same way since. It's impossible to mention only one Willis title. Also on my shelf are Remake, Lincoln's Dreams, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and The Doomsday Book. Willis is a treasure. No one has her range. No one writes about ordinary people with more conviction and empathy.
Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock. Holdstock mixes myth and a son's relationship with his father in an absolutely seamless way. I was halfway through the story before I realized that this is also a tremendously moving love story. The last chapter, the epilogue, is set up perfectly.
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. So much has been said about this loosely connected series of stories for me to add much here other than I keep rereading them.
The Postman by David Brin. Brin's book has several moments that are devastating. As much as I enjoy his Uplift War stories, The Postman, with its post-apocalyptic world view and the return of things to believe in stole my heart.
Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis. This is the first of a trilogy, and they are all worth the time, but I liked this one best. Lewis's style has that pleasant formality that lends weight to the events. The first copy that I owned was printed in England, and the smell of the book has been associated with fine literature in my mind ever since.
Of course there are numerous other titles that I could add here, but this is a good start.