Besides being a big reader of speculative fiction, especially science fiction, I have no writing credentials. I didn’t study creative writing in college. I haven’t attended any writing workshops, though I may.
I repeatedly hear two pieces of advice on how to improve my writing. The first way to become a better writer is to be an avid reader. Check. Of course, the second thing they say is to write. However, I feel simply writing alone cannot make me a better writer. How do I avoid repeating the same mistakes? If I do not know how to develop characters, or plot, or theme, can I grasp those concepts intuitively just from reading other fiction? I doubt it. So instead of simply reading genre fiction, I also have read books recently on the art or how-to of writing speculative fiction. Below are some of my favorites so far.
Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by David Gerrold
Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-This-World Novels and Short Stories by Orson Scott Card
On Writing by Stephen King
King’s is more high level and much more personal. For example, he discusses where he writes and when he writes and how much he writes each day. The first part of the book is a true memoir and discusses his childhood and his early writing while addicted to drugs and alcohol. I found that all fascinating but not very helpful in developing my writing skills. Unfortunately, I do not plan to become addicted to drugs or alcohol any time soon.
The other two books listed above are more about the nuts and bolts of writing speculative fiction. I found Worlds of Wonder especially practical. For example, Gerrold devotes one chapter to the questions an author should ask when developing an alien race. He devotes another chapter to the questions an author should ask when developing a new world. While an author is not expected to include the answers to all these questions in a work, it seems logical that an author can only fulfill the old adage of writing what you know if you’ve developed the alien race or world to the point where you truly know it.
I don’t plan to stop with the books above. I have a list. I always have a list… for everything. Below are a couple on my To Read list.
Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula Le Guin (RIP, 1929-2018)
Characters & Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Orson Scott Card
In addition to the craft of writing, I’ve read a couple books on the business of writing. Writing will not be my career any time soon, but I found the following two books to be immensely helpful in understanding the ins and outs of writing as a business.
The Magic Bakery: Copyright in the Modern World of Fiction Publishing (A WMG Writer’s Guide) by Dean Wesley Smith
Q&A for Science Fiction Writers by Mike Resnick
I bought both of these as part of Story Bundle’s 2017 NaNoWriMo bundle. I’m still working my way through the remaining titles in that bundle. Resnick’s take is a little dated since it mostly was written in the early 2000s with the occasional update in 2008 and again in 2012. Much has changed since the early 2000s and even in last five years, especially with electronic publishing. Regardless, many of Resnick’s points remain applicable. Smith’s take is more current, and he does not come off nearly as arrogant as Resnick. (I’m not saying that arrogance wasn’t earned, but it’s there.) That said, I felt I benefited from the two contrasting viewpoints. Now I just need to learn about writing viewpoints.