IWSG 86: Heart the Writing Craft


This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our encouragement or insecurities on the first Wednesday of the month, to join the group or find out more click here.



 PK Hrezo | Cathrina ConstantinePJ ColandoKim Lajevardi | Sandra Cox


What is your favorite writing craft book? Think of a book that every time you read it you learn something, or you are inspired to write or try the new technique. And why?

This question has opened a can of worms. I’ve read over forty… maybe, fifty, or more books on how to write. I’ve even read books that had nothing to do with my genre and still learned something new.

Honestly, every how-to-write manual has something worth discovering.

I started, probably like you did, and read On Writing by Stephen King. I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s an easy and inspirational read by a writing legend.

Which led to more questions and more books.

A course in itself

Writing Fiction: a Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway

For the writer that has limited access to writing courses and wants a deep dive into writing fiction, this book is for you.

It touches on all the basics, with in-depth examples and detailed explanations on each facet of fiction writing.

I learned so much and landed up adding to my reading list from her recommendations in Appendix B.


It’s an older book called: Techniques of the $elling Writer by Dwight V. Swain

Like Burroway’s, Swain’s book covers the basics. He also dives into the Motive-Reaction Unit and offers a deep explanation of Scene-Sequel Pattern that controls the story’s pace.

Characterization and POV became easier once I learned about the MRU.  It took practice, but now I automatically choose one or all of these reactions: immediate instinct, first thought, physical response, dialogue.

Each character gets a turn, and it makes the characters come alive. The drama reads as organic, and I love how it plays on the page.

Pacing in a project can be challenging. No drama, drama, drama or yawn, yawn, yawn. Using the scene – sequel pattern comes naturally to me now. It made my work less exhausting for my readers.

You’ve heard that each scene needs a protagonist with a goal which is blocked by the antagonist, creating conflict. When the protagonist doesn’t achieve their goal, the scene ends in disaster.

The sequel portion of the pattern is where the protagonist takes a moment to process their reaction, consider their dilemma, and decide what they’ll do next. This, of course, gives them a new goal which leads to another scene.

Building blocks

The internet was a great place to find grammar and punctuation advice. I have a few go-to sites like: uToronto, Purdue OWL.

I had all the grammar, punctuation, and fiction writing facets covered. What I needed after that was a way to express myself as a writer. To build expressive paragraphs, everyone needs to create beautiful, descriptive, sentences.

Artful Sentence: Syntax as Style by Virginia Tufte was how I learned to leave the simple to-be sentence behind and embrace the complex.

This book was not an easy read for me. The vocabulary had me looking up word after word. Inside, you’ll learn about every type of modifier, and their placement.  This book is the how-to in building the complex sentence.

It turned me into an artist in my own mind. Yes, I’m making fun of myself.

Seriously, I feel so much more comfortable getting my words down now that I dug into her book.

Have you guested my secret?

I’m obsessive!

Most of my non-fiction books are how-to-write manuals. Yes, like you, I have a bookcase full of them. They inspire me. I’ve never gotten through a chapter without jotting down an idea or thinking through some new angle.

What about you… What makes you obsessive? You don’t have to stick to writing on this one. Is it gardening? Your kids? Pets? Yeah, I want to know.

Additional Note: For each comment left, I visited your blog. However, my comments were sometimes blocked by security. Sorry about that.

68 responses to “IWSG 86: Heart the Writing Craft

  1. That’s awesome that you read so many craft books. It’s like you created your own course on how to write better. I read Stephen King’s book too and found it helpful.

    • I live in a small town and there are limited resources here. To learn what I needed to know, I had to be proactive. Books and the internet were where I found most of my early answers. 🙂

  2. I have a few writing books, but most of my non-fiction is on leadership, goal-setting, and people skills.

  3. Hi Anna. I’m saving this post. Thank you for the suggestions. I think books on poetry. Im obsessed with them. Can’t stop collecting.

  4. Ronel Janse van Vuuren

    Love your selection! Like you, I’ve read more craft books than I can possibly recommend 🙂

    Ronel visiting for IWSG day Being Busy vs Being Productive

  5. I love Swain! (Should track my copy down ;)). Most people look at me like I’m crazy when I mention him, but you can see where so many other writing books branched off of his work.

  6. I’ve not read many craft books, but I’m starting to get into them. I’m learning it helps, especially when I start to get in a rut with my writing. I’m going to check out the Techniques of the $elling Writer.

  7. I loved Stephen King’s craft book. I was lucky enough to get a copy of Dean Koontz’s book on how to write genre fiction. Sadly, it did not survive last year’s 2 hurricanes. Homelessness sucks.

  8. I actually haven’t read a lot of books on writing. In high school, I was an art geek and one thing the teacher stressed was how to art books only taught you how to create art in THAT artist’s style. You had to figure out your own. Naturally, that lesson stuck with me so I don’t often jump on books on writing.

  9. I’m amazed that you’ve read so many writing craft books! Go ahead and be obsessive. That’s not bad at all.

  10. Hi,
    I do have Swain’s book and Stephen Kings’ book. I started on Swain’s and haven’t started on Kings’s book, although I have had it since 2019. I have made up my mind to start on it soon.
    Hope you are fne.
    All the best.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  11. I get most obsessed with skill improvement. What I’m focused on might change–maybe it’s writing, art, parenting, or something else, but I’ll throw my full self into it and it’ll consume my focus for days.

    You’re the second person I’ve seen mention Techniques of a Selling Writer, so that might be one I need to check out!

  12. Thank you for this impressive list, Anna. They’re on my list now.

  13. What an excellent post, Anna–thanks for the recommendations! I have trouble getting through nonfiction, so I haven’t read many writing craft books (maybe the best teachers for me have been great novelists,) but I’ve added these to my goodreads shelf and would love to take a look at them in the future. When I first started writing, my aunt challenged me to improve the poetry and artistry of my words, instead of relying on cliches, and the Artful Sentences book looks perfect. Way to put forth great effort into learning the craft!

  14. Great suggestions. I agree that every how-to-write manual has something worth discovering. 🙂

  15. “On Writing” was a life changing book for me. Before I read that book, I thought writing could be either a hobby or a job. Afterward, I starting thinking of writing as a way of life.

    Also, there was a bit in there where King describes his own concept of the muse, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

  16. I recently read a post on writing by Ilona Andrews – I subscribe to their blog – and they swear by Swain’s book. As they are multiple bestsellers, I value their recommendations. You’re in good company. :))

  17. I fall down rabbit holes of research all the time and my obsession changes depending on the rabbit hole 🙂 I like knowing things and can be lost in research for a while!

  18. My favorite is Save the Cat but, like you, I’ve read several how-to books and learn something from each of them. I’ll have to check out the ones you mentioned. Thanks for sharing.

  19. These resources are why you are so brilliant 🙂

  20. I’ve read a few craft books but I am impressed by how many you’ve read! I prefer reading non-fiction books on ancient history, they’re my craft books and use the information I acquire in my stories.
    That is amazing, and thank you for the suggestions 😀

  21. Thanks for the recommendations, Anna! I may have to give these a look.

  22. I’ve read so many writing craft books over the years, I’ve lost count. But the bookshelf in my office only holds the “keepers.” No way could I keep them all!

  23. It’s been a while since I sought out craft books, but some of these sound really good! @samanthabwriter from
    Balancing Act

  24. Well, one of my biggest problems is trying to make my sentences better, less high school-ish. Maybe I should try out “Artful Sentence.”

  25. Glad you mentioned King’s book. Easy reading, very insightful. While I don’t read horror, I definitely enjoyed his book.

  26. mlouisebarbourfundyblue

    LOL, Anna! I’m obsessive too! King’s book is brilliant, as is most (but not all) of his writing. I need to order Tufte’s book. I love complex sentences, and rarely meet or write a semicolon I don’t like. I need to focus on the artful. All my best to you!

  27. Excellent recommendations! Thank you!

  28. Hi, Emaginette! How do you deal with the crisis of application until it feels natural? I know my creative flow suffers each time I’m done reading those books!

    ♥.•*¨Elizabeth Mueller¨*•.♥

    • Write as you always do. Then revise using the new method you want to incorporate. Think of it as a test.

      If you compare the scene a week or two later and like the original better. The new method isn’t for you.

      Never incorporate any writing technique that robs your work of passion, tension, and creativity.

      Hope that helps. 🙂

  29. You sure are getting to the bottom of this writing thing! I think I’ll stick to memoir and just write in my own voice and my own style and do my own thing. Much easier that way. 🙂 Unlike you – and most authors – I don’t have a bookcase full of books. I don’t have a bookcase. Not even a digital one. No space. No time. Priorities… I’m obsessed by my dog, my travels, and promoting my travel memoir.

  30. I like the sound of the Motive-Reaction Unit – immediate instinct, first thought, physical response, dialogue.
    I wonder if the local bookstore can order the book for me. Hopefully I can get a hardcopy.
    Thanks for the recommendation.

  31. “I’ve even read books that had nothing to do with my genre and still learned something new.”

    I feel like I actually learn more from studying what other genres do than I do from studying my own genre. I attended a workshop for romance writers years back. They talked a lot about engaging all five senses for certain… eh-hem… romance scenes. I’ve never heard any Sci-Fi writer talk about that or read about it in any book on how to write Sci-Fi, but that’s a strategy I’ve found extremely useful for writing all sorts of Sci-Fi scenarios.

If you're new to writing, ask me anything and if you're experienced, feel free to share what you know. Learning something new in the craft is always welcome.

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