Since I was a kid, I’ve hated the idea of being forced to choose favorites. I’ve almost always stubbornly insisted on multiple favorite colors, foods, movies, music, and especially books. It’s not (merely) that I’m indecisive; it’s that I find it impossible to choose a blanket favorite without considering the context. Am I choosing a meal that I’d have to eat over and over again for the rest of my life, or the one I most enjoy on special occasions? Is this the one book I’d have with me on a desert island, or one that has stayed with me even if I read it only once every few years?
This same tendency is one of the reasons I love working on books for kids and teens, where editors tend to be generalists—working on everything from tense young adult thrillers to heartwarming picture books to magical middle grade adventures.
Still, while I’ve read many books about writing and have many, many more on my to-read list, there are some that I’ve returned to again and again—and that I’ve heard praised by multiple authors who found them invaluable at different points of the writing process. So, if books about writing are on your wish list, here are my top recommendations:
For Anyone Interested in Writing Books for Kids & Teens: The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein
The Magic Words is one of the most comprehensive writing books I’ve read that focuses solely on books for kids and teens. It provides a broad overview of the industry while also delving into the nuances of specific genres, formats, and career paths. This book makes a great starting point for anyone interested in getting into the kidlit world, yet still offers insights for seasoned writers. If you’re writing for kids and teens and only have room for one craft book, I think it’s hard to top this one.
For Anyone Who’d like to Strengthen their Plot, Pacing, or Structure: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need by Jessica Brody
The original Save the Cat! book on screenwriting has been a writing mainstay for years, and for good reason. This version focuses specifically on novels and includes a number of examples (primarily from books for adults) for “the 15 essential plot points” that make up the core premise of the Save the Cat! model. If you aim to write fast-paced fiction with broad appeal, enjoy unpacking well-known plotlines, or like thinking about how to utilize—or subvert—popular story structures, you’ll likely find this book useful. On the other hand, if you find it limiting or deflating to read writing “rules” or to compare your in-progress plot to that of bestselling novels, this may not be the best fit.
For Anyone Looking for Wisdom and Encouragement from Writers Who’ve Been in Your Shoes: Courageous Creativity: Advice and Encouragement for the Creative Life by Sara Zarr and Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
True to form, I cannot choose just one book in this category! What I love about both of these books is that you can read them from front to back, and you can also flip to a random page at any time and undoubtedly find encouragement, a fresh perspective, and no-nonsense wisdom honed by the authors’ years in the creative field. Sara Zarr and Anne Lamott are both straightforward in acknowledging the struggles of the creative life while remaining unfailingly empathetic and encouraging—not an easy balance! If you haven’t already, I also highly recommend listening to Sara Zarr’s podcast, This Creative Life.
Is there one (or more) book about writing that you can’t live without? I’d love to hear your recommendations and add some new books to my own list!
Your Editor Friend,
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