So I got asked today about how-to-write books — specifically, I was asked to recommend a few. Given that this seems to be a topic that comes up now and then, I am going to recommend two-and-a-half of them (one is specific for F&SF writers).
The first is On Writing by Stephen King. This is the book that I re-read every so often. King puts together an autobiography and a lecture on craft into one easy-to-read manuscript. The thing is, most writers would put together an autobiography that would read as “if you didn’t grow up like I did, you’ll never amount to much.” King doesn’t do that. Instead, he draws on elements of his upbringing that illustrate how his life shaped him as a writer, and are easily identifiable as things that could have just as easily happened to you. The result is a frank, sometimes funny, sometimes sad book on not just craft, but what it really means to be a writer.
Secondly, I’d recommend The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer. Mailer’s one of those authors that, well, is pretty awesome. His book, like King’s, not only covers the “voodoo” of writing, but the life of a writer as well. One part in here that I loved was his bashing on people who believe they need to be drunk or high to produce anything worthwhile (a belief one of my younger brothers wrongly subscribes to). This is probably the one that’s best for writers of straight, mainstream literature.
Lastly, for those of you writing F&SF, I’m actually going to recommend reading The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Science Fiction by Cory Doctorow and Karl Schroeder. Great, great book. It covers everything a wet-behind-the-ears writer should know — from what makes a good story, to working methodology, to the business side of actually publishing your work. Great stuff — I read it about once a year. (It’s just that I need to spend some more time in front of the keyboard, banging out electrons.)