Five Things: top sources of writing advice

Stephen King
Category: Writing

Hanif Kureishi was quoted in the Independent last week saying that creative writing courses were a waste of time. It's not the first time I've heard an author state that writing can't be taught, and it's not the first time I've responded with the phrase 'poppycock', either.

Writing is a craft and, like any craft, it can be taught. Storytelling skills can be sharpened and prose streamlined and improved. While there's no substitute for practice (writing a lot and reading widely), a good writing teacher or excellent book on the craft of writing can be hugely beneficial.

However, I do think it's true that nobody can teach you how to have something to say. Or, to put it another way, nobody can teach you how to write successful or even publishable fiction.

That, however, is not always the ultimate aim. There are many people who simply wish to write with more fluency and ease, to communicate with their friends and family, or with their future selves (when keeping a diary). Or for the pure joy of developing a skill to their own satisfaction. Personally, I like to research everything I do and writing is no exception. I've read countless books on writing, and follow the blogs of wise and experienced authors who are smart on the subject of storytelling.

After years of studying the subject, I now give advice in my weekly Write Your Novel column at Novelicious (which is so much easier than writing!).

Here are my five top sources for writing advice:

1. The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. I always recommend this book and have read it many times myself.

2. On Writing by Stephen King. This is the book that moved me from a 'one day I'll write a book' dreamer to a real-life novelist. I'd recommend it even if I didn't owe it, though, as it's an excellent practical guide and an inspiring memoir from one of the best storytellers of our time.

3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Like Keyes’ book, this is less to do with the craft of writing (point of view, adverbs, and all that) and more of a memoir of the writing life. It's fascinating and encouraging and one I return to time and time again.

4. If you like your writing advice practical, tough-talking and foul-mouthed, then Chuck Wendig is your guy. He blogs at

5. Prefer to listen to your writing advice? The Storywonk podcasts are entertaining discussions on writing craft and good storytelling (in a variety of media, not just novels). 

Sarah Painter

Sarah Painter is a writer based in Scotland. Her latest novel, The Secrets of Ghosts is published by Carina. Sarah won Scottish Book Trust's 50 Word Fiction Competition in January 2013. Find out more about Sarah on her website.