These are the books and resources on writing I’ve found most useful in the past two years, when my focus has been on establishing a writing practice and structuring methodology:
Take off Your Pants by Libby Hawker
Useful for structuring and character development
This is probably the book I’ve found most useful for structure, so I’m putting it at the top. It helps me keep character at the core of my story, (something beat sheet methods sometimes leave out) and helps me figure out which scenes to cut. This method takes about 2-4 hours to outline, which works for me. For a quick and dirty version with a similar core, the ‘Six essential questions’ Youtube clip cuts to the quick of these concepts.
Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
Useful for structuring
This is foundational to understand the beats of the Hero’s Journey, which is great to understand even if you don’t end up using it in your own work. Almost all other structuring theory builds on or refers to this.
The Heroine’s Journey by by Gail Carriger
Useful for structuring in women’s fiction, romance and other found family narratives
This unpacks the gaps from the Hero’s Journey for found family narratives, which are often found in women’s fiction and romance.
Romancing the Beat
Useful for structuring romance
This is a new one I’m finding incredibly useful, which once again fills in some of the gaps of the Hero’s Journey beat sheet. There are some key scenes in romance like the first kiss and the 75% conflict which your romance readers are going to miss if you don’t include them. This is also a great book for understanding how an overarching plot works with a romantic subplot.
Short stories lecture on the MICE quotient
Useful for structuring and estimating length in short stories
This video in Brandon Sanderson’s lecture series with guest star Mary Robinette is very helpful for understanding that stories consist of several elements that fit together to make a whole, and has a handy calculation for estimating length for short stories. Understanding the MICE quotient is also foundational knowledge for longer work.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Useful for resilience in the writing process
This cultural phenomenon is still popular after 25 years for a reason. Writing takes endurance, and that takes mental toughness. This book is great for helping silence negative voices, and giving yourself permission to be creative. Many people also find the recommended morning pages helpful to unlock creativity. Personally I find morning pages a source of unnecessary work and stress, and prefer hot showers and yoga, but you can take what you need from this book.
The Four Types of Novel Writers by Ellen Brock
Useful for clarifying your own writing process
Ellen Brock’s Youtube has this incredibly useful video to help identify what kind of novel writer you are, and then has specific tricks and tips for each kind. This is mostly useful after you’ve edited at least one novel-length manuscript all the way through, and be careful of labelling and locking yourself in as your process may evolve. A lot of the guidance in this has to do with identifying what works for you rather than going with standard writing advice.
The Now Habit by Neil Fiore
Useful for reducing procrastination in the writing process
If you’re a procrastinator, this is a great book for understanding the reasons you procrastinate. I think this is more effective than repeating the same old information about writing things down, breaking things into smaller tasks etc. I only procrastinate when stakes are high, so I need to mentally de-escalate to tackle hard tasks.
Mentorship/ writers program, or conventions
Useful for motivation
The mentorship program I’m in has been the most useful motivator for my writing. It’s given me a mentor, a group of peers going through the same process, and a set timeframe to work on my writing (two years).
I was also surprised at how motivating going to a convention was. Meeting so many other writers made me realise the potential in my own work, and my writing went in unexpected directions.