Books and Tips to help you write well

August 22, 2021

Whether it’s for books, blogs, or term papers, we all know how important it is to write well. It can mean the difference between your endeavours being successful or not performing as well as you’d hoped.

If you’re putting together essays, you want to ensure they have a solid structure and clear prose; and, if you’re sending out your stories into the wider world, you want to not only attract readers, but to have them return again and again!

With so much advice geared towards writers out there, it can be hard to keep track of it all. So, here’s a curated selection of books and tips that will help you elevate your wordsmithing, no matter what or for whom you write!

1. The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation,  by Jane Straus

Get to grips with grammatical basics* with this uncomplicated, effortlessly-navigable guide.

Sure, the subject might seem rather dry; but it’s so important. Having a solid understanding of grammar and punctuation will make your writing look more polished and professional, even if it’s only your first draft.

 

The Blue Book was one of the core texts for my proofreading and editing course, and it’s continued to be useful throughout my first year of freelancing. It has easy-to-digest points and plenty of examples, so you can be sure you’re getting it right, and they’re all broken down into accessible categories.

The Blue Book is readily available online, so you don’t need to worry about dipping into your savings. The site even features quizzes for you to test your knowledge!

*The focus is on US English grammar, so do double-check what’s usual for your type of English, if you’re using a different one.

Top writing tips from The Blue Book:

  • Use the active voice as often as you can. Instead of saying “Our travel plans were created by Jim”, for instance, try “Jim created our travel plans”.
  • Avoid “dangling modifiers”. Also funnily named “danglers”, these pesky sentence bits risk making your writing confusing. Ideally, you need to put the entity your modifier describes as close as possible to said modifier in the sentence. “The papers were ruined, as they’d been damaged by water” is preferable to “Damaged by water, the papers were ruined.”
  • When you’re writing dialogue, make sure we know who’s speaking; but don’t overuse descriptions for their speech (also called dialogue tags). Each line of dialogue should go on a new line in the text. The same applies when a new character starts speaking; and, once speaker order is established, you can drop the dialogue tags for a bit.

On the subject of dialogue: it’s a long-contended notion whether “said is dead” and we should be using more creative words to describe our characters’ speech. Personally, I think a few instances of “said” are absolutely fine – especially if the character’s tone is already made clear from their words.

More emphatic dialogue tags – like shouted, insisted, or whispered – can really add some flavour to your story. But if they’re used after every single sentence, your writing will feel slow, and won’t be as fun to read. Consider:

“I know you snuck out last night,” Sandra said.

“What?” Claire asked, incredulous.

“Don’t play the fool with me,” Sandra warned. “Where did you go?”

“No. You’ve got it wrong. I was asleep the whole time!” Claire exclaimed.

Versus:

“I know you snuck out last night,” Sandra said.

“What?” Claire asked, incredulous.

“Don’t play the fool with me. Where did you go?”

“No. You’ve got it wrong. I was asleep the whole time!”

Which one do you think reads more smoothly?

2. Save The Cat! Series, by Blake Snyder

This inventively-named series originated with Blake Snyder’s original screenwriting handbook, and has since expanded with guides for novelists and TV writers.

The fun title is Snyder’s invention, and describes a moment in a story where the protagonist shows the audience, beyond a doubt, why they are worth supporting.

The screenwriting edition breaks down your average screenplay into 15 “beats”, creating a simple formula that can absolutely be adapted to best fit your chosen format (regardless of whether that’s a film, book, or other fictional medium).

The novel version, meanwhile, covers “10 genres to fit any story”, teaching you how to craft anything from mysteries, to romances, to superhero stories. There’s also an entire section dedicated to pitching your manuscript to publishers.

With all this brilliant advice packed into a small space, Save The Cat! might well be “the last book […] you’ll ever need” when it comes to creative writing!

Top writing tips from Save The Cat!:

  • Start with an “opening image” that effectively sets the tone. This applies whether you’re writing a film script, novel – or even a blog post or essay! A strong introduction is essential to give your audience a clear idea of what they’re getting into, and where the “story” is likely to go from here.
  • Subplots are your friends. Snyder proposes the idea of a story having both an “A” and a “B” plot: A being the principal story driven by your protagonist, and B serving to build on established themes. Most commonly, the B plot revolves around a romance between two characters. Consider which ideas are most important to your narrative, and craft your subplots accordingly.
  • Don’t forget the fun and games! Even if you’re penning the next dark fantasy epic, it’s important to have moments of levity here and there. The original Save The Cat! describes these types of scenes more in terms of the protagonist doing interesting stuff with new powers they’ve gained; but the beauty of adaptability means this doesn’t always have to take the form of super-powered shenanigans.

To give an example, here’s the “opening image” of the first draft of my novel. It’s intended to set up a central mystery, and convey the grittiness of the setting:

Moonlight. A weight in her hand. A thud.

A lake of blood…

3. Everybody Writes,  by Ann Handley

Ann Handley’s stellar book covers everything you’ll need to create amazing online content, whether that’s for blogs, webpages, or social media.

Grounded in the author’s extensive experience in marketing and journalism, it offers a plethora of tips that are easily applied to any kind of writing destined to go online.

“Things Marketers Write” breaks down 17 common things that professional marketers are asked to produce, providing valuable insight and enabling you to take advantage of established techniques.

The segment on “best practices” demonstrates how to write authentic, compelling content – guaranteeing that your readers will engage – and more general advice on improving your writing skills.

All of Handley’s advice is tailored to help you to cope – and soon thrive – in this often overwhelming, increasingly digital world.

Top writing tips from Everybody Writes:

  • “Writing a book is like birthing a Volkswagen.” A funny way to phrase things, to be sure; but it goes for pretty much anything written that you plan to put your name to. It will never be an easy process: there’s reams of thought, work – and perhaps tears – that go into it. The most important thing is that you don’t give up!
  • We are all writers. Even if you’re just casually posting on social media, you’re taking part in a form of self-marketing. If you own a website – congratulations! You’re an online publisher. You already have the tools, and capabilities, to make brilliant content. All that’s left is to refine those skills; and don’t forget that you will continue learning as you go.
  • Economy, style, and honest empathy are key. These three factors have a huge influence on the likelihood of your audience taking notice of your writing. Deliver stories – be that in a book, a blog post, or simply your latest Tweet – that give them what they want to see, and do it with pride and competence.

Here’s another one for the digital writers: if you want your work to be found online, it’s important to keep SEO (search engine optimisation) in mind. Notice the amount of times I’ve used writing, tips, and books so far in this article?

These serve as keywords: terms that people are likely to search for, and thus increase the chances of this website showing up in search results. You’ll want to ensure that a few focused keywords appear throughout your articles, but not so much that it creates clutter and makes your prose less readable.

More book recommendations:

Stephen King’s On Writing

In this quintessential memoir, from modern horror’s most prolific writer, King shares his own experiences with writing and offers practical advice for aspiring authors.

Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist

“You don’t need to be a genius, you just need to be yourself.” Kleon’s short yet brilliant book is entertaining, practical, and relentlessly positive, encouraging creatives to seek inspiration everywhere and not be afraid to let your ideas loose.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic

With both pragmatism and life-affirming passion, Gilbert dives deep into the nature of inspiration and human curiosity. She suggests techniques that will empower readers to unleash their artistic sides, and how to tackle the fears and insecurities that keep us from being our most creative, fulfilled selves.

Some extra tips…

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help! See if friends and family will read your writing. Consider joining a local (or online) group dedicated to your chosen medium. Hire beta readers for your manuscript.
  • Read, read, read! It’s an old adage, but the best writers really are the ones who have spent a lot of time with their nose in a book (or screen). Your current read doesn’t always have to be in your target genre or style, or helping you move towards your writing goals in some way. Don’t forget that reading for pleasure is important, too!
  • Write a little every day. Even if it’s just one more sentence, or changing a few words here and there, it’s progress! Can’t get into the flow? Try letting your thoughts turn over your writing project when you’re doing something else, like chores, taking a shower, or just relaxing.
  • Take a writing course. You don’t need a degree to be a successful writer, but learning more about your craft can help you hone your skills and feel more confident in your abilities. There are many available online, delivered across a variety of platforms, so you can choose one that best suits your needs.

And there you have it! A collection of books, tips, and handy tricks to help you on the path to writing well.

Once again, I’d like to give a huge thank-you to Elaine for the opportunity to write for her wonderful blog. I hope this article has brought you one step closer to achieving your writerly dreams, or at least pointed you in the right direction!

If you enjoyed this, check out 10 books every woman should read before she turns 30. I also post weekly writing tips on my Instagram page: @mloproofreading. Feel free to pop over and say hello!

Sincerely,

Megan

Megan is a freelance writer, proofreader, and editor. When she isn’t using her keyboard to deliver top-quality work and smash deadlines, she’s often enjoying a coffee or working on her historical novel (or both at once!). Visit her website: www.mloproofreading.com.

Share the ♥︎
FB
Pin
Tw

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This page may contain affiliate links, which means I will receive a commission if you buy one of these products, at no additional cost to you. I only list things that I personally love.

Stay updated

Subscribe and get things right to your inbox

* We will never share your details with any third party