“Give Yourself Permission to Write Shitty First Drafts” or My 24 Favourite Books on Writing

Here are some of my favourite books on writing–remember, this kind of list is always subjective–with a slight slant toward film and TV work.

What publications are on your “must have” reading list?

EGRI, Lajos.  The Art of Dramatic Writing. Written for playwrights but equally applicable to screenwriters.

GARANT, Robert Ben & Thomas Lennon.  Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too! A delight to read; a fascinating look at Hollywood through the eyes of two men who know it well and take glee in sharing news about the good, the bad, and the ugly.

GOLDBERG, Natalie.  Writing Down the Bones. One of several “classics” that I like to reread every year or two. I hear her workshops are life-changing for writers. Has anyone participated in one? Please share your experience with us.

GOLDMAN, WilliamAdventures In The Screen Trade. Great background on Goldman’s adventures writing screenplays; an entertaining combination of gossip, writing hints, and film industry information.

——  Which Lie Did I Tell? More Adventures in the Screen Trade. A follow-up to the above and just as entertaining.

HUDSON, KIM.  The Virgin’s Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual, and Sexual Awakening. This is a fascinating new way to look at archetypes and The Hero’s Journey. Check out her blog at http://kehudson.wordpress.com/

HUNTER, Lew.  Screenwriting 434. Hunter, a UCLA teacher, has written a good overview of the screenwriting process.

KING, Stephen.  On Writing. This is another book I read every year or so. It’s a combination of personal stories and writing hints given by a master craftsman who wrote: “I’m always more interested in the people than I am in the monsters.”

KING, Viki.  How To Write A Movie in 21 Days: The Inner Movie Method. I have heard this small book disdainfully dismissed by some screenwriters, but I figure whatever works to get you going, use it. Good quote: “Fiction is a way to tell the truth.” Twenty years ago I followed her instructions in this book and 21 days later had a first draft of my first film script, just like she promised. It was an exhilarating moment in my writing life.

LAMOTT, ANNE.  Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Lamont is a wonderful writer, not afraid to share her personal experiences and air her demons.  She also gives excellent writing advice; most noteworthy are her comments on plotting and character development. My favourite Lamont line: “Give yourself permission to write shitty first drafts.”  Cheers to that!

MCKEE, RobertStory: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. This is an ugly duckling kind of book. Although most writers I know own a copy, few have actually read the whole thing. Its presentation is academic rather than entertaining, but it is filled with invaluable information, in particular about story structure.  McKee’s weekend workshops are fabulous. I’ve done his “Story Seminar” and “Genre Course” and found them worth every penny. Ignore the ego that shines forth and focus instead on his entertaining stories and very astute observations about screenwriting and filmmaking.

ONDAATJE, MichaelThe Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. This is another of my favourites. It consists of a series of conversations held over a twelve month period between fiction writer Ondaatje and Oscar-winning sound and film editor Murch. Even though it is a book about editing, I found the content and Murch’s comments equally applicable to screenwriting.

PEARSON, Carol.  The Hero Within. Pearson presents a detailed introduction to 12 archetypes that you will find helpful for character development.

SEGER, LindaCreating Unforgettable Characters. Another classic that never becomes dated. The same goes for her three other books listed below, and anything else she has written. I’m an unabashed fan.

——   Making a Good Script Great, Revised & Expanded 3rd Edition.

——  The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact And Fiction into Film.

——  Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath.

SNYDER, BlakeSave the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. I confess I was resistant to this book initially because of the title but after reading it, I understood the hype around this man’s work. Although Blake died several years ago, his books continue to be a resource for writers.  Check out the Save The Cat website, http://www.blakesnyder.com/tools/.

STRUNK, William & E.B. White.  The Elements of Style. A little classic, handy to have by your computer. It has gone out of favour lately, but it is still a quick and easy reference text. There are also many useful websites that will quickly answer your grammar and punctuation questions. Watch out for online grammar forums though; sometimes the “helpful” information given by a forum reader is wrong.

TROTTIER, David. The Screenwriter’s Bible: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WRITING, FORMATTING, AND SELLING YOUR SCRIPT, 6th Edition. This is a very good basic reference text.

VOLGER, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Storytellers and Screenwriters. Interesting use of Joseph Campbell’s mythology approach to film scripts. It’s a good introduction to the 12 steps a “hero” goes through on his/her quest and then shows how those steps are followed in successful, classic films.

VOYTILLA, StuartMyth and The Movies: Discovering the Myth Structure of 50 Unforgettable Films. Voytilla uses Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey to analyse 50 award-winning films.

——   The Writer’s Journey (3rd Edition). This publication explains the relationship between myth and Joseph Campbell’s mythology work and storytelling.

UELAND, Brenda.  If You Want to Write: a Book about Art, Independence and Spirit (1938). A classic that is filled with still timely writer observations, even though the book is almost 80 years old. Ueland introduced me to the term “moodling,” which encourages writers to daydream, to sit in a coffee shop, or walk in the woods—anything that gives us “moodling”–creative daydreaming–time.

Along with hundreds (thousands?) of other screenwriting how-to books, there are also many terrific screenwriter blogs, but that is information for a future post.

#Film and Television Writing Books#Joseph Campbell#Myth#Screenwriting Books#The Hero's Journey


  1. Barb - @

    Joyce – what a great reference list, with much appreciation for your personal comments – I’ll definitely look some of these up when I return to Canada! I just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles’. The choice of books here is somewhat limited, and this one – with intrigue, fantasy and a ton of somewhat excruciating detail (something that I definitely wouldn’t choose at home) – engrossed and fascinated me. The comment on the back ‘How does Murakami manage to make poetry while writing of contemporary life and emotions?’ seems apt. b.

  2. photoentrepreneur.com/tamarackjourneyproductions">Joy Thierry Llewellyn - @

    So happy you liked it.

  3. photoentrepreneur.com/tamarackjourneyproductions">Joy Thierry Llewellyn - @

    I’m interested in hearing about your latest favourite writing book. Suggestions always appreciated. Joy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *