Thursday, April 7, 2016

Short But Not Sweet—Quick Read Writing Books

by Lynn H Blackburn @LynnHBlackburn

I’ve read a lot of writing books over the past few years, and I’m always looking for new books to help me improve or to inspire me in some way. 

This year I had made a goal to read at least four new books on writing, and to reread a few that are particularly pertinent to me and where I am in my career.

And then life happened.

One day everything was clicking along, and the next I found myself falling down a rabbit hole—one I would have preferred never to explore. During this season, my reading tastes tend toward quick reads, not heavy material, and I had almost given up on tackling any sort of “craft” books until I scanned my shelves and realized the books I needed were sitting right in front of me.

It turns out that “quick reads” don’t only apply to works of fiction. These writing books are either short or filled with brief chapters. You can read them while you brush your teeth, sit in the carline, or stand in line at the grocery store. Most of them are small enough to carry in your purse or tuck into that handy little cubby hole in the dash of your car.

And don’t assume short means sweet. These books are filled with powerful writing wisdom. If these books are new to you, add them to your “must read” list. If you’re familiar with the titles but haven’t opened them up in a while, dust them off the shelf. Toss one in your writing bag. Leave one by your computer. Maybe stash one in the car.

Enjoy them the way you would (or should) enjoy that leftover Easter candy from your children’s baskets…one little bite at a time. (Or don’t and eat them all in one sitting. I won’t judge).

First up, one of my all-time favorites from James Scott Bell. The Art of War for Writers. (You can read a full review here). This bright red volume has 77 brief essays (some of them are only 3 pages long, and the pages are only about 6 inches high) on everything from writing first drafts to searching for an agent. This one is riding shotgun with me in my computer bag.

Next up are two slim volumes from Steven Pressfield. The War of Art and Do the Work. (See my review of The War of Art here). Most of the “chapters” in The War of Art are one page. Some are one paragraph. Seriously. There is no one who doesn’t have time to read this book. And Do the Work? I’m not even sure how to describe it. There are only a handful of paragraphs on each page with lots of font changes and white space … and it’s only 98 pages long. These two “mini but mighty” books are filled with tough love and solid insight into why we struggle to write and what we can do about it. Do the Work got tossed in my backpack beside my calendar.

Finally for this post, I can’t discuss “brief but powerful” books without mentioning Acceptable Words - Prayers for the Writer edited by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney. (You can read a full review here). This book is now with my Bible and journal. It isn’t one that needs to be read in one sitting, and each prayer is only a few short paragraphs, but the words, many of them hundreds of years old, speak to my heart and encourage me in my journey.

I’m sure there are many other excellent books that would meet my “short but not so sweet” criteria. So let’s talk more about this in the comments. 

Do you have any favorite “quick reads” about the craft of writing? Share them with us!

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


Lynn Huggins Blackburn believes in the power of stories, especially those that remind us that true love exists, a gift from the Truest Love. 

She’s passionate about CrossFit, coffee, and chocolate (don’t make her choose) and experimenting with recipes that feed both body and soul. 

She lives in South Carolina with her true love, Brian, and their three children. You can follow her real life happily ever after at


  1. As Junie B. Jones would say, "Wowie, wow, WOW!" Thanks so very much for not just listing ones even all us rookies know.

    And, it sounds like you have the little books in print to stash here and there. I've been curious about how other writers like to read best... page-turner or e-reader? Hmmmm...


    1. Thank you, Nancy! Personally, I prefer paper over digital any day, but I do enjoy having some quick reads on my Kindle app!

  2. I prefer the "real" book so I can highlight and quickly refer back to something I want/need to reread. Works of fiction are on my Kindle.

    1. I'm the same with my nonfiction, Sharron! I'm a highlighter, underliner, and fan of stars, asterisks, and exclamation points in the margins! I rarely mark up a work of fiction, but I still prefer paper for those, too. :)

  3. I like "Common Mistakes Writers Make" by Eva Marie Everson. :) I'll have to check out the ones you mentioned...

    1. Excellent addition to the list! Thank you, Jennifer!

  4. I LOVE the books above, but I have to add one more IMAGINATION @ WORK, by Alton Gansky. It's only available as an ebook and it's free, but it's one of my favorites! (

  5. Replies
    1. Thank you! And thanks for the reminder. I don't know why I forget to pin these posts!! Great idea!

  6. Any of James Scott Bell's recent short books on the craft are outstanding. My favorite is WRITE YOUR NOVEL FROM THE MIDDLE. Jim has made a huge impact on my writing career and I grab anything he writes about craft.

    1. This made me chuckle because I just pulled up my Kindle version of Write Your Novel from the Middle this morning! I agree - JSB is ALWAYS a good idea!