Friday, July 11, 2014

Books For Writers: An MFA in Five Books

There have been many times that I've expressed how important I think it is to get writing advice straight from a writer. And I'm about to do it again!

These five books are written by writers for writers and I think they are essentials to any writer's library. In the future I will do a post for each book individually, but for now I want to give you an overview of each. Even though I'm on my way to begin an MFA program in creative writing, I believe that these books will give any writer a good introduction to what an MFA program offers. All of these writers were or are successful and some of them have also taught in MFA programs. If you enjoy writing, are considering applying to an MFA program, or just enjoy learning from authors be sure to check out these books!

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose. Out of the five books, this is the first one that I received and read. I had been eyeing it once I became obsessed with Francine Prose but I've always preferred reading fiction to nonfiction and I was unsure if I'd enjoy it as much. I got it for Christmas a few years ago and I sucked it up right away! Prose's advice, observations, and her opinions and analyses on other writers are golden. It's like hitting the advice jackpot. Not only is Prose a writer of all genres who has been successfully published many, many times, but she has taught both literature and creative writing in MFA programs. Who better to take writing advice from? Not to mention, the suggested reading list in the back of the book will inspire some serious reading. 

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. When you talk about successful authors, you cannot neglect Stephen King. This book allows readers to understand how King became a writer as he discusses his childhood and his recovery from a near fatal car accident. At times it does read as an autobiography but that's exactly what writers want to read from other writers. The tone of this book—confident, laid back, and open—leaves you feeling encouraged and as if you are partaking in a friendly conversation with King. Wouldn't that be a treat? Not only does King give out his wise words, he includes his own extensive reading list, a draft with his personal edits, and some interesting tidbits about his own life. Did you know he's in a writers-only band with Amy Tan? Me neither. 

Aspects of a Novel by E.M. Forster. One of the older books on my list, published in 1956, and reads much differently than the others. This is because the book is really a series of lectures on the different elements that form a story: story, character, plot, fantasy, prophecy, and pattern and rhythm. The writing is very clear and his suggestions are amplified and put to life with the many real examples he uses to prove his points. I include this book on the list because it is more structured and more focused on specific elements that are required for good writing. It's a bit more tangible and Forster's lectures can be put into practice using writing prompts. I also like that this is an older book because it goes to show that the art of writing will always be important and relevant. 

Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa. Just thinking about this book makes me happy and makes me want to write. I find that it is also the most uplifting and encouraging book on this list. This book is truly written in the form of letters, intended to encourage a young writer to maintain their creative desire while imparting his wisdom along the way. His insights are original and well-crafted. The book itself is rather thin so it will not take a long time to read, but you will close the book feeling satisfied and educated by a brilliant writer. Also, the length of this book will allow you to read it time and time again and I promise you that you will be driven to do just that. Do not be fooled by the word 'young' in the title. This is not meant for preteen or anything of that sort, it is meant for a writer who might be a novice or who needs encouragement. If that is you, this book will do wonders to the way you view writing. 

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. While this book is like the others in the way that it discusses prose and writing technique, it focuses more on cultivating good writing habits, reading like a writer, and getting into the psyche of a true writer. Brande claims that any writing problems are blamed on the personality of the writer. It approaches the line of being a self help book, not to improve your writing but to mentally turn yourself into writer. Brande provides exercises and examples that help her readers tap into the unconscious in order to dig deeper creatively. Another old book on this list, it is inspiring because it includes countless pieces of advice to make yourself truly believe that you are a writer. This book is perfect to round off this list. It has elements that are truly unique to Brande's approach on writing advice. 

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