Last week I found myself compiling a list of books about writing for a young writer I know. She’s 15, enthusiastic, stymied by the parameters of writing for school assignments, hungry for information, encouragement and advice.
I tried to give her book suggestions that would open up the world of writing for her, beyond those school assignments, give her some craft tips in a not-too-serious way, and also, perhaps, take her writing into different areas.
Some of them are personal recommendations, some of them are Book Boy‘s recommendations, and some of them are recommendations from authors I’ve interviewed on the podcast.
It occurred to me that there are probably a lot of teen writers out there just like her, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to share my list.
So here it is (click on the title to read more about each book or to buy at Booktopia). Just in time for the holidays.
12 books about writing for teen writers
On Writing by Stephen King
This is my favourite book about writing, hands down, and Book Boy (15) loved it, too. You can read his review here. Half-memoir, half-writing craft, it’s a no-nonsense page-turner about writing.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day.
We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.
Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” – Anne Lamott
I first read those words about 20 years ago and they perfectly sum up, for me, the process of getting a book written. One word, one page, at a time. It’s another memoir/writing book combined, with a lot of inspiration and motivation in its pages.
Writing Down The Bones: Freeing The Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
This one comes recommended by international bestselling children’s author Andy Griffiths, who talked about it at length in episode 65 of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast.
Here’s a snippet from the interview with Andy Griffiths:
“I discovered a book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, who was very keen on writers putting the hours in and putting the practice in. She has a method of time writing practice, which was to write non-stop on any subject without editing, without thinking, without trying to control it – just get words on the page for a five-minute period and then repeat it again and again and again.
“That allows you to access your subconscious without the editing function getting in the way, going, ‘Well, that’s a bit silly,’ or, ‘That’s a bit rude,’ or, ‘That’s not appropriate, as if bums could grow arms and legs. Let’s get onto something a bit more realistic.’ You need to escape that voice when you’re getting the raw material on the page. You bring it in later to edit what you’ve done and to tidy it up. But, too often it’s fused at the creation stage, so people are very timid and very restricted in what they feel they can write.”
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Another book that is often recommended on the podcast. Children’s author Tristan Bancks, for instance, is a big fan, and talked about it in episode 201, as did children’s author Jen Storer, in episode 98. If you ever hear people talking about doing their ‘morning pages’, you can bet they’ve read this book. It’s a great way to encourage teens to keep a journal.
The Writing Book: A Workbook for Fiction Writers by Kate Grenville
I have a tattered and ancient copy of this book, which was the first book on writing I ever bought for myself (I was probably about 20 or 21 at the time). I love this one because it is practical, hands-on and Australian. I have given it to Book Boy, as much to help with his English assessments as his writing. For detailed, accessible information about point of view, dialogue and other techniques, it’s a winner.
Everything I Know About Writing by John Marsden
This was published in 1998 and I have only just discovered its existence (I know, where have I been?). I promptly bought a copy for Book Boy (okay, for me) as everything John Marsden knows about writing is surely worth reading. I am hoping Book Boy will review it once he’s read it, and I’ll edit this post with the review once it’s available.
The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking The Poet Within by Stephen Fry
I bought this one for Book Boy, who loved it (see his thoughts here), finding it equal parts instruction and entertainment.
Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
I’ve just bought this one for Book Boy after it was recommended to me as a terrific book on creativity. In this post on Medium by Chris Castiglione, it’s described thus:
“In 1903 Franz Kappus (a 17-year-old student) wrote the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (27 years old) asking his advice on becoming a writer.
The book is a collection of Rilke’s replies over a series of ten letters. In the letters Rilke beautifully articulates advice on topics of creativity, dealing with criticism, inspiration, love, life, and loneliness.”
Grammar & Punctuation
The Elements Of Style (Strunk and White)
Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Punctuation matters. I’m sorry, but it does. As I tell kids when I do author talks and workshops, ‘think of it as a toolkit to help readers decode your words. You want them to get the message exactly as you intended, not some weird, cryptic guess.’
These two books take different approaches to the same subject – S&W is the classic, ESL is the contemporary – but every teen writer should have at least one.
Save The Cat by Blake Snyder
Billing itself as ‘the last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need’, this was the first book on screenwriting I ever read and I found it invaluable for writing fiction of any kind. As a bonus, it helps to watch the movies that are mentioned in the book, so offers hours of useful procrastination as well. Teens will find it very readable and really helpful for learning about the structure of stories.
Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo
There are now two volumes of this collection with this one, the first, being the classic edition, featuring songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, k. d. lang and more. The second volume (More Songwriters On Songwriting) includes Patti Miller, James Taylor, Elvis Costello, Loretta Lynn and more.
I bought the first one for Book Boy, who writes his own songs, and have enjoyed dipping in an out of it myself for the insight into the creative process of some of the world’s best songwriters.
So there you have it. Some books for teens about writing*. Have you or your teens got any recommendations to add? Please share them in the comments!
*You will note that I didn’t put So You Want To Be A Writer, my new book with Valerie Khoo, on this list. The main reason for that is that, at 15, my young writer friend is still in that beautiful space of having time to write, think, and explore the craft of writing.
So You Want To Be A Writer is a book about deciding on the kind of writer you want to be, making it work outside a day job (to begin with), approaching writing as a business, making it fit within your life, getting in touch with your creativity, getting the words written. I will give it to my 15-year-old friend in a few years, as a high-school graduation gift. Buy it here for yourself or someone you know.