4 books every writer should have

I think I enjoy reading about writing, more than I enjoy the act of writing. Writers seem to be the most sensitive, interestingly flawed people on the planet, and I love reading their candid accounts of the blessings and struggles of writing. Here are some of my favorite books on writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts, or further reading suggestions.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

 Anne has a biting sense of humor, and she’s brutally honest. I first came to this book after reading an excerpt called shitty first drafts, and I was hooked on her quirky essays ever since. She reminds the reader that writing is not a fun, rewarding activity. Writers hear the call of duty, and they can’t escape it. Without this ever-evolving challenge to express oneself, the writer would feel hollow and lost. But she also reminds us that our challenges can be conquered, and that piece by piece, bird by bird, our efforts will amount to something.

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

 This was the first book on writing I ever read. Even though he made writing seem like a tortuous, tedious task, after finishing this book, all I wanted to do was read more and write more. Half of it is a memoir and half is instructions on the craft of writing. Not only does King’s life read like one of his captivating stories, his tips are easy to follow and give the writer immediate results. I stopped over-using adverbs after reading this book. As King wrote, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” He taught me not to let the strict rules of grammar cramp my style. He taught me about persistence, rejection, and appreciation.

“Almost everyone can remember losing his or her virginity, and most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this! What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff?”

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

 This in not merely required reading for every writer, but for everyone who is alive. Julia gives amazing tips on how to live a more creative, fun, and fulfilling life. She makes art seem accessible, and a natural part of everyone’s existence. I’ve read this book so many times, and the margins are filled with notes, the text underlined and circled repeatedly. The key to this book, however, is that you can’t just read it; you must follow all the action steps.

“No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity.”

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I haven’t actually read this one yet. It’s been recommended by every writer I know, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Fortunately, I just ordered it and will read it soon. In the meantime, here’s a quote from it that I really enjoyed:

“I write because I am alone and move through the world alone. No one will know what has passed through me… I write because there are stories that people have forgotten to tell, because I am a woman trying to stand up in my life… I write out of hurt and how to make hurt okay; how to make myself strong and come home, and it may be the only real home I’ll ever have.”

Ok, Since I didn’t read the last book, I’m throwing in a bonus book: The Mind Of Your Story: Discover What Drives Your Fiction by Lisa Lenard-Cook

Honestly, I love just holding this elegant book. There’s something beautiful and charming about the size and illustrations. It gives a lot of useful advice on the elements of fiction, with helpful diagrams and quotes. This book is great if you are new to writing, or if you want a refresher on how to express and structure your thoughts. I’ve never heard the struggle of writing described better than this:

“One of the most important tools as a writer is the ability to keep your senses open to everything around you- not simply seeing but listening, smelling, tasting, touching, and, most difficult of all, being open and empathetic to everyone (and everything) with whom you come in contact. Being this sensitive isn’t easy, which is why I suspect, so many of us retreat into our hidey-holes to recover from our forays into the outside world…It’s all the more ironic, then, that we open, receptive, caring, over-sensitive sorts must learn to shoulder rejection far more often than other mere mortals. No, not just shoulder it, but accept it and then as quickly as possible expose the rejected part of ourselves yet again, long before the hurt has begun to heal.”

Enjoy your reading, and let me know what you think!

8 comments

      1. Read “Bird by Bird” earlier this week and just finished Stephen King’s “On Writing.” It’s no understatement to say I thoroughly enjoyed both. This is the first chance I’ve gotten to read anything by Anne Lamott, and her style is refreshing. Who can’t learn from Stephen King?? I liked his thought that you don’t need to attend writing retreats to “become” a writer. Made me feel a bit more free, because I’ve never felt the urge to attend one, but felt gentle pressure from writer friends that I should. Thanks for the ideas – keep them coming!

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        1. I, too, felt guilty that I wasn’t attending any writing conferences, but then I had a writing teacher who said they were a scam, so I felt better. I would like to go eventually, but in the meantime I think it’s more useful to work on my craft more than my networking 🙂

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  1. “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” That advice stuck with me too!! Very good to remember. I can’t wait to read the last two recommendations!

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  2. Ha ha … got me again with the “shitty first drafts”. I laughed out loud just like the last time you referenced it. Based on that alone I want to read Lamott’s book. I’ve read King’s excellent book on writing. I’ve got to admit, The Artist’s Way sounds intriguing. Might just have to read that one, too.

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    1. I go back to The Artist’s Way almost every week. It’s an incredible tool! Let me know what you think of it if you start reading it 🙂

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