Bitesize Reviews of Books About Writing

Recently, I've read a number of books about writing. Two were written by agents, one was written by a creative writing professor, one by a poet, one by a screenwriter, and one was On Writing by Stephen King which was definitely my favourite.

If you're looking for advice on a particular area of writing, I think any of the books I'm reviewing here will prove very useful. I did enjoy some more than others, and if you were only going to choose one, I'd have to recommend On Writing - but that's because it speaks to my pantsing heart. If you want more of an industry guide, I think Writing 21st Century Fiction is a great place to start.

I've linked to Waterstones for each title. Personally, I borrowed two from my local library and picked up second-hand copies of the others from Book Depository.

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

This is a very well-known guide. It is geared towards screenwriting, and chunks of it are irrelevant to writing novels, but I found the Blake Snyder's breakdown of the three-act structure and his exploration of genre extremely useful. I was quite sad to learn the author died in 2009. I wanted to see what scripts he'd written since the book's publication. Tragically, he died only four years after Save the Cat hit the shelves. And yes, that title will make perfect sense once you read the book.

Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maas

This was written by US agent Donald Maas. I really enjoyed this. It's packed full of excellent advice about writing modern fiction that will appeal to the modern reader. It talks about how to explore your themes, how to create compelling characters - both protagonists and antagonists - and explores ways for you to find your best writing method. It has some great exercises at the end of each chapter, which I know I'll be using when I hit my next edit. 

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

This was written by poet Natalie Goldberg in the 1980s. I did chuckle at her "I've never tried writing on a computer" line near the opening of the book. For Goldberg, writing is like a spiritual experience. She practices Zen meditation, and it comes through in her work. If you're a poet or enjoy writing in verse, Goldberg's book is sure to resonate. She really hones in on using free writing to open yourself up, connecting with your own emotions and experiences, and using that to write as honestly as possible.

Write for Children by Andrew Melrose

This book examines writing everything from picture books to YA. Andrew Melrose refers to writing for a specific age range as 'Writing the Height'. Very handy if you're not sure where your book fits in. I also particularly enjoyed the exploration of point of view, and how to keep a tight grip on characters if you're writing series fiction.

On Writing by Stephen King

I have been meaning to read this book for years. It was fantastic. Part biography, part how-to guide, it pulls you in quickly and easily. King goes from exploring the events of his life that led him to be the kind of writer he is (if you can make it through the early doctor's visit section without squirming you're a stronger person than I am), to sharing his ways of writing. I loved how he described the act of digging up the story that was already inside him. It rang so true for me. Cannot recommend it enough, even if you've never read any of King's work.

Get Started in Writing Young Adult Fiction by Juliet Mushens

This book is set up to take the place of a workshop. Exercises are provided to help you work through everything from initial planning of a story all the way through to getting an agent and publication. It also looks at self-publishing as a legitimate path to publication. One aspect I really liked about this book was its acceptance of using fanfiction as a perfect way to enhance your craft when you're building up to write an original idea. It's also very specific to YA and what does and doesn't appeal to that audience, so I think plenty of you will find it very useful.


  1. Oh, this is so interesting! I gave Donald Maas's books waiting on my TBR pile as well as Juliet's. I'm looking forward to reading Donald's books particular since structure is something I'm very keen to work on.

    1. Donald Maas' book is written in a really fun way and the exercises are fantastic. The one that's really stuck with me is about knowing your favourite scene and going back over it to make it even more amazing. I'm a little bit obsessed with that one and I can't wait to really spend some time sprucing up new moments in the next edit. Juliet Mushen's book has loads of practical exercises. It's written in a more formal, coursework kind of way.

  2. I have the Save the Cat, but haven't read it yet, but I've heard great things about it! I talked with an author once who said she likes to read books about writing scripts and has found it has helped her a lot in novel writing. :) Also, I haven't actually read On Writing yet. I know, I know. I'm a bad writer! I have it, though, so thanks for this reminder to pull it out! I have a vacation coming up at the end of the month, so I'll take it along. :)

    1. Save the Cat is a great technical manual. It's got a great structure breakdown that can work for novels.

      On Writing is definitely work your time.


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