8 NON-A+ Books on Writing (Some Are “B.” Some Are “F.”) [BOOK REVIEWS]

When people hear that I have a few books, almost everyone says, “You know, I’ve always wanted to write. I just can’t find the time.” I am frequently (at least once per decade) asked, “Do you recommend any resources to get me started?”

Honestly, I’ve sifted through a lot of junk. Most authors, it seems, are introverted, and sit on years of pent-up anxieties and frustrations. Most are profane, having too much alone time to contemplate their anti-God lives. Most authors are secular in tone and content, and although their books might inspire me to write or give me good tactics and tools, their worldviews grate on mine, and I constantly seek God’s wisdom to help me discern right from wrong. Even the authors who refrain from profanity have a self-focus drive (career, success, fame, money), or cover worldly themes with anti-biblical morals (evolution, Hollywood lifestyle, homosexuality, education over spiritual growth).

Needless to say, as an author who is a Christian and whose title is “Associate Pastor,” I’m hesitant to make ANY recommendations! But, here are a few of my not-so-great-but-still-might-help-you books I’ve read. These are rated in order of grade.


Stein On Writing. By Sol Stein. Stein is an old school writer and editor who cut his teeth on screenwriting. He was trained in acting and worked with actors in his early career, so much of his style emphasizes the visual side of writing. Stein On Writing analyzes many good and bad examples of his day, pulling thoughts from and looking for improvements in plotting storylines, developing characters, creating suspense, and using principles of fiction writing in nonfiction. It is a long book that re-emphasizes many of the same writing principles as other books do, but with a fresh twist.


On Writing Well. By William Zinsser. In this simple book, Zinsser talks through principles like “show, don’t tell” and “find your voice.” He emphasizes the need for clarity and succinctness, while inspiring the writer to launch his work out there for the world to read it. The book was disappointingly short. Almost half the already short book was on writing memoirs, which did not interest me, but I got through it anyway. I now know something about memoirs. Okay. I do not recommend this book unless you want a quick read. It will not be detailed enough to warrant the money you spend (unless you get a great deal!) However, I did enjoy the author’s own style and learned from his clarity.


Book Launch. By Chandler Bolt. Subtitle: How to write, market and self publish your first bestseller in 3 months or less and use it to start and grow a six figure business. Although Book Launch gave me some good ideas, it came across like just another one of those “launch” books that are prevalent today. To me, the book seemed inauthentic for some reason, like it was a rushed work just to be done and have what the subtitle says. I am being overly critical of the book, I know, but something about it rubbed me the wrong way. It included thoughts from other authors I have read after, which gave me the impression that it was not as original and I typically like.

I DID like several things about it, though. 1) It gave practical tools about how to plan and publish a book  2) It gave practical tips on promoting the book after it’s published. Most of the book is spent on tips about how to mind map, outline, write a rough draft, edit, and publish the book, which I had previously read from other authors. I suppose that if I had read this book first, it would have ranked higher on my list, but it seemed like a rehash of other things out there. If you want a thorough STARTING point, maybe this book is for you.


Writing Great Fiction. By The Great Courses. This was the third “Great Courses” course I had taken, and found it the most interesting of the three. This author (Professor James Hynes) had written several fiction books and stepped the listener through the multiple aspects of fiction storytelling including plotting, suspense, tension, characters, settings, point of view, and more. This was my first foray into fiction writing, so it opened my eyes to a lot of principles I had never thought of before. The professor was not overly academic, but could use words that were intentionally “higher” than a non-academic might use. His tone was not arrogant, though. Some of the courses got boring, but because they were so informative, I found them intriguing, nonetheless.


Writing Creative NonfictionBy The Great Courses. Professor Tilar Mazzeo had written a few creative nonfiction books and describes her process in twenty-four 30-minute presentations. Her definition of creative nonfiction is a history book with the creative flare and drive of a novel. Her “contract” throughout was a great premise: always, always, always tell the truth. Never embellish. Never give one detail that is not verified in research and documented carefully.

Since creative nonfiction books are true stories, this premise impacted me. It is easy for a writer to add details that come only from his imagination, but this “creative nonfiction contract” always ensures that everything that is written is true. For example, a character’s dialogue had to come from written diaries or eye witness accounts. If the author could not document the quote, he must not write it as dialogue. Rather than put exact words in John’s mouth, the author could say, “John talked about the weather with his wife.”

This and other points were helpful in learning about this new (to me) craft. The professor impressed me as being somewhat precocious, but her emphasis on truth in research were nonetheless helpful to me. I learned a lot from listening to this course, and recommend it as a starting point for anyone who might want to write something like a biography or other true account from history.


Analysis and CritiqueBy The Great Courses. Subtitle: How to engage and write about anything. I have blocked this from my memory, I think. I would dread opening my Audible App, yet I knew—I knew—I just had to get through the course. Twelve long hours later, I was the victor. No boredom could beat me. And guess what? I learned a lot, too. In fact, I was surprised how much I learned about BIBLE study! The professor was versed in studying ancient texts, particularly medieval era writings. Her teachings coincided with a lot of Bible study principles, including one of my favorites: discover the author’s intent. SHE did it with poetry, drama, short stories, college essays and more, but WE can do it with the biblical genres, as well. It ended up being both insightful AND validating. Not that we need validation in our Bible study, but it was interesting to hear of an expert in ancient languages teach her students how to read and understand what they were reading (which is what WE try to do with our Bible study). After this review, I doubt anyone would want to listen. But if you’re anything like my friend Greg, who is a high school English teacher who loves this kind of stuff, maybe you, too, would find it enjoyable.


Secrets of the Six Figure Author. By Tom Corson-Knowles. As another big-hype book along the same vein as a lot of others, I was unimpressed by the content of this book. While it is good stuff, I personally get bored with hype-y titles and overworked topics like this new boom of self-publishing. I read the books and glean the information, sure, but nothing leaves me intrigued. I do not learn as much as I feel I should when I get through them. They regurgitate the same information, and reframe it in slightly unique ways to suit their needs. I don’t judge people for doing that, I just have few books I recommend because so few are truly and helpful. ALL of them help the reader in some way, including this book, but they are all diminished by the overwhelming wave of similar content.

That said, I barely remember the content of this book. I might have learned a lot at the time, but none of it stuck with me. Sometimes my best book reviews come months later when I can still remember the main points of the book, or the nugget I took from the book. This book included topics like, “Start with the ‘why’” and what to do after you publish your book, but was not one that I will reuse for its benefits. Take it as a 2-hour read if you want a quick start to publishing a book and an overview of the processes.


Write Good or Die, edited by Scott Nicholson. I picked this book up as a free promo and read it over several weeks. If you are into writing, this is a collection of essays on the topic of writing from several prolific authors. With a variety of authors you will read a variety of perspectives. It is a quick, easy read as each unique chapter is only a few pages long.