Reading and the Stay-at-Home Writer by Avantika

Reading has become a big issue in Malaysia. We even have a reading ambassador: Michelle Yeoh. The Star newspaper reports that she has been appointed ambassador for the Information, Communication and Culture Ministry’s “Come and Read 1Malaysia” campaign.

Daphne Lee has commented on this issue with her own piece, Pretty faces aren’t enough. She says, amongst other things, that the libraries of Malaysia – be it in the schools or elsewhere – are not properly stocked and we should have teachers and librarians who are, themselves, enthusiastic readers. It is the last sentence in her piece that interests me: Instead, give us knowledge, passion, personal commitment and long-term action.

With that in mind, I thought that in this piece, I share with you some of the knowledge I’ve collected about useful books for writers.

Essential Guides for those who would like to write anything at all.
1. Usage and Abusage of the English Language; new edition edited by Janet Whitcut.
At first glance, this book is like a dictionary and can seem like tedious reading. However, as you look through the text, you’ll find yourself pleased that you’ve made the effort. The book provides explanations of when certain words should be used and when they should not. For instance, do you know when to use ‘brief’ and when to use ‘short’? Or, should you write ‘altogether’ or ‘all together’? What words are in vogue right now? What words should be avoided at all costs? This book will certainly help you discover how not to abuse the English language.

2. The Complete Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers
In the Introduction, Joseph Epstein writes that ‘THE COMPLETE PLAIN WORDS teaches that careful writing is arrived at by a combination of courtesy and good sense and taking pains with the small details.’ The story goes that Sir Gowers wrote the book, initially, as a guide for Civil Servants and how to write properly in English. It has become a very useful guide for writers of all genre. Very simply put, Sir Ernest Gowers has a set of rules to follow when trying to communicate your thoughts to others. They are as follows:
• Be sure that you know what your correspondent is asking before you begin to answer him.
• Begin by answering his question.
• So far as possible, confine yourself to the facts of the case you are writing about and avoid and general statement about the law.
• Avoid formal framework if you can.
• Be careful to say nothing that might give your correspondents the impression, however mistakenly, that you think it right that they should be put to trouble in order to save you from it.
• Use not more words than necessary to do the job.
• Keep your sentences short.
• Be compact; do not put a strain on your reader’s memory by widely separating parts of a sentence that are closely related to one another.

3. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr.
E. B. White, in the Introduction, writes that he treasures the book ‘for its sharp advice, but I treasure it even more for the audacity and self-confidence or its author.’ This little book – at some 100 pages, it certainly is little – is a gem of a book for any serious writer. If you need to know when to refer to Tan Twan Eng’s novel as The Gift of Rain of Gift of Rain, this is the book for you. The language is simple, the rules easily explained and, all in all, this book is a saving grace for many a writer.

To help you write better fiction.
Write Great Fiction – Plot and Structure – techniques and exercises for creating a plot that grips readers from start to finish by James Scott Bell.
Have you ever watched a movie that had all the elements of a story but you could not follow it well? Well, this is one book that will make sure that any story you choose to tell, especially in written form, will be presented in a proper structure. You’ll learn where each element of a story must be placed to make your tale a sound one.

When you need some comfort.
Creative Visualization for Beginners by Richard Webster.
This is a book for when you’re stuck with a story and can’t move forward. It shows you how other creative people overcame their problems – be they financial, spiritual or even physical adversities – and energised their creative juices to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

A Cup of Comfort for Writers – edited by Colleen Sell.
This is a collection of short stories and essays from writers all over the world. Some of the stories are sad, some are funny, some poignant and some motivational. Reading them makes you understand that you’re not alone as a writer and that there is hope.

There we are. That’s the list of books I can suggest you read. If you’d like to add to them, by all means, please do so.

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