Artists Way

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!

The Power of Writing Groups

Here’s a great article about declaring your dreams, creating a supportive community, and going out on a limb, and it happens to be written by my friend, Tricia Remark! Read about how our writing group got started:

tricia writing group

Here we are pretending that all of our books reached #1 on the NY Times bestseller list.

Disposable creativity

“Many of us wish we were more creative. many of us sense we are more creative, but unable to effectively tap that creativity. Our dreams elude us. Our lives feel somehow flat. Often, we have great ideas, wonderful dreams, but are unable to actualize them for ourselves. Sometimes we have specific creative longings we would love to be able to fulfill – learning to play the piano, painting, taking an acting class, or writing. Someimes our goal is more diffuse. We hunger for what might be called creative living – an expanded sense of creativity in our business lives, in sharing with our children, our spouse, our friends.”

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way (pg.5)

If you haven’t read The Artist’s Way yet, for gosh sake just click on this link and buy it already. Every creative person I know attributes the growth of their creativity to this book. I’m not over-exaggerating. And if you’ve been following the HeSo project for a while now, you’ll remember that when I interviewed Lisa Bourque, a fabulous life coach, she said the book changed her life.

It is Julia Cameron’s opinion that everyone has the potential to be creative and that creativity is a like a muscle that grows the more you use it. Creativity is not just for the arts; it can be used to improve your outlook on life, the way you problem solve, or handle your relationships.

One of her famous exercises is “the morning pages.” The first thing you do every morning is fill three pages of paper. There’s really no wrong way of doing this. If you have nothing to say you can fill the pages with a grocery list.

Sometimes the pages become very negative and your “censor” comes out. Your censor is that voice in your head that tells you everything you do is garbage. Julia suggests that it’s better to let the censor out on these pages so it gets exhausted and won’t distract you when you want to do something more creative and challenging. It sounds silly but when I dabbled with the morning pages before, it really did help me feel more free and confident when I was working on my creative writing later on in the day.

My boyfriend has been doing these morning pages for over a year now (way to go Mike!) The pages have taken many twists and turns for him. They started off as an outlet for his censor, then they became an outlet for his story telling, and now he’s using that time to compose music – something that he’s always wanted to do. Sometimes what we always want to do is the hardest thing to do because we give it so much weight. We think, to do that something poorly would be worse than not doing it at all. By using the morning pages to compose he’s getting the practice he needs without the debilitating pressure to produce something “good.”

Lately I’ve been feeling like there’s a void in my life. The BeddyBye project felt very exciting and creative at first, but now as I’m talking to safety commissioners, manufacturers, and parenting associations (I’ll write more about this later) I’ve entered the more taxing, stressful part of the project. I write a lot for this blog, but it’s not the same as creative writing, something I’ve loved doing since childhood (I remember writing stories about how I was born on Mars and raised by apes. I made photocopies and tried to sell them to the kids on my block. I guess I invented vanity publishing!). So I decided to instill some creativity back into my life and embrace the morning pages again.

I started this past Friday. In the morning, before breakfast I spent 30 minutes writing a short story. I used The Writer’s Toolbox for inspiration. The Author, Jamie Cat Callan, offers a bunch of suggestions for first lines. I picked a random one and started writing. The opening line was: “Dad gave me a wink, like we were pals or something.” I ended up writing about a daughter finding out that her parents have had an open marriage for her entire life and she’s just now meeting her father’s girlfriend of 16 years. I don’t know where that idea came from, and for the life of me I would never have thought it up if I just sat at my computer and tried to come up with a story.

The exercise helps you to see that everyone has a wealth of untapped imagination inside them and you just need a safe place to let it out. Knowing that I didn’t need to complete the story, and that it didn’t need to be part of something greater was liberating. It’s what I like to call disposable creativity. I know that sounds terrible, especially in our green-conscience society, but looking at creativity like it’s a finite resource is not productive. I’ve been in many writing classes where people hold on to stories that aren’t working, and I think it’s because they’re scared they won’t be able to come up with anything else, when that’s simply not true.

Today was my fourth day of morning pages and I’m going to continue for at least 17 more days (research shows it only takes 21 days to form a habit). Does anyone else want to join me? It doesn’t need to be writing, you can start every morning strumming a song on the guitar, drawing a picture, or dancing. The point is to start every day off in a creative, non-judgmental fashion. I guarantee you’ll feel more creative and excited for the rest of the day! If you join the challenge send me some of your work or your reflections and I’ll add it to the blog!