Dec 14, 2012

10 Best Writing Workbooks

You can get great books on the craft of writing and learn to write a novel at home, but there's so many, how do you pick? My favourites are the workbooks providing exercises to try yourself. Here are the top ten workbooks for writing that I couldn't do without:
You could write your whole novel with this workbook. Now don't be confused, there are two releases under this title. Writing the Breakout Novel is probably a good book too, but I prefer the workbook. It's condensed on the chapter lengths but has the added bonus of exercises for you to complete.

Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin
At first glance this seems like a run of the mill how-to book on writing. Nope. Le Guin has a magical way with words that transcends her fiction and makes a technical book a pleasure to read. She tackles the usual devices for good writing, but goes beyond and looks at elements that make beautiful writing. For example, her first chapter is on the sound of your writing and includes an exercise titled: 'Being Gorgeous'. It's not all airy-fairy though, you will cover punctuation, syntax, sentence length as well as some fun things like repetition, switching your point of view and using adverbs and adjectives (come on, we could all use some improvement with those). Her examples come from some of the greatest writers. I could read this book again and again.

I use some of these exercises in my writing group. The book's a bit wordy for my short attention span, but good if you just use one section at a time (each section looks at a writing skill, such as dialogue, character, description, etc). The topic is explained, examples given and then you are asked to try your hand at writing with a guided exercise.

Created by an amazing writing centre for young people, this workbook offers lesson plans for high school teachers wanting to offer their students some amazing creative and persuasive writing workshops. You don't have to be a teacher to use it, try the exercises yourself. There is also a Don't Forget to Write: for the Elementary Grades, if you've got some younger writers at home (5-12yrs).

Evans is an amazing speaker, just look for him on YouTube and you'll find many interviews. This is a writing manual with a difference, it's not about technique it's about sparking amazing creativity and ideas. You'll get amazing exercises but also find out the psychological or scientific reason these exercises work for us. Even simple acts like breathing can inspire creativity and kick start our imagination. 
The Artist's Way Workbook by Julia Cameron
Whenever there's a workbook available for a text, I'll just buy that. This is great to get you living the creative life rather than making small slots of time for creativity. Do the exercises even if they feel silly--my experience has always been the tasks I'm reluctant to try always harvest the best results. Each week you'll be assigned small tasks to promote creativity.

Specialist Subjects: 

I'm still working my way through this workbook but it is perfect if you're writing a… well mystery obviously. Learn all the tropes and gain an insight into the necessary structure of a well-planned crime novel. There are charts for you to fill in and exercises that will take you right through the planning stages.

This book is such a good guide it could be helpful for writing any kind of novel, but does offer a lot of insight into the children and YA book market. Find out exactly what kids expect from fiction. The text was suggested to me during a writing course I took and I'm glad to have discovered it.

I know what you're thinking: 'But this is an artist's workbook!' Yes it is, and trust me, I'm no artist, however, drawing inspires creativity. Try a drawing exercise right before you sit down to work on your manuscript. There's something about allowing the pencil to flow over the page that helps release the words.

Adventures in Fantasy by John Gust
Another resource for the classroom but just as good for adults. This book is a whole workshop starting with planning your fantasy setting map to filling the world with characters and conflicts. Great for someone setting out to write their first Fantasy novel. There's lots of sheets to print or copy, so I recommend getting the physical book rather than the ebook version.

23 comments:

  1. I love the Breakout Novel writing book but I do love wading through pages of prose. He has some great writing exercises in the book too.
    Love your selection. Another couple of great books is Write Away by Elizabeth George and From First Draft to Finished Novel by Karen S Wiesner. So many goodies out there! Of course I love anything by Hemingway to learn from.
    (I snuck into the office to get this done - now back to cleaning!!)

    Denise

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  2. Grammar lesson - I was just going to recommend one book above, so I started 'Another couple of great books ARE...' Don't wanna confuse you seein' as I am the Grammar Guru!

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  3. Good catch Denise! Yes, I bow down to your grammar greatness :)

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  4. I love books on writing; I have several of them in my bookcase. So thanks for the tips! I read a couple of Julia Cameron's other books; I especially like her idea about Morning Pages.

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  5. I absolutely love The Artist's Way and there are some really excellent books here that I will have to try because you always have to hone your craft. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Thanks for these books. I recently read a few craft books and I'm on the lookout for more.

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  9. I just ordered (myself) stocking stuffers of Bird by Bird, Save the Cat, On Writing Well, and Emotional Thesaurus. Not workbooks, but wonderful books on the craft.

    These are great choices you've listed!

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  10. Excellent list. I have a couple of these, but will keep an eye out for the others.

    cheers,
    mood
    Moody Writing

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  11. Awesome! I'm going to check out a few of these books!

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  16. I have all Mr. Maass' books and they're all outstanding. Great list, Charmaine! I'll definitely check them out. Merry Christmas!

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  17. I love the Breakout Novel Workbook. I will check out the other books. Thanks.

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  18. Love the exercises in Donald Maass' book. They're fantastic!

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  19. Great list! Not the ones I usually see, but they sound like winners. :)

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  20. wanted to come over and say thank you for stopping in and leaving a comment on my blog today! really appreciate it! thanks from texas!

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  21. Thanks for the great list! Been wanting to buy a writing book, but didn't know which ones were good.

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  22. What a great selection of books!! I've been meaning to get the Breakout Novel. I didn't realise it comes as a workbook as well. Woot!

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  23. Such a great list! A few of them I haven't even heard of.

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