Reading about writing in books written by writers for writers.
I’ve been a writer all my life, but since I’ve begun writing professionally, I’ve found extra value in reading about writing.
Whether you write for pleasure or pay, professionally, personally, or otherwise…an interest in, or at least curiosity about, writing led you to this post today. Don’t make the mistake I did and wait too long to read the wisdom contained within these volumes’ pages!
Simply put, I wish I had found these titles sooner. Many have given me the figurative push forward I needed to sit down and get serious about putting pen to pad. So without further adieu, the best books for writers that I know of:
Starting off strong here, this is the book that arguably has made the biggest impact on my relationship with writing. Drawing parallels between the practice of zen meditation and the writing process, author Natalie Goldberg has shifted many mindsets with this classic concept. The subtitle is ‘freeing the writer within,’ so this book is perfect for someone who feels called to writing but trapped by their resistance to it. It looks at writing as nearly a spiritual practice, challenges the ‘rules’ of writing and creativity, and has sold more than one million copies worldwide (so you know it resonates!)
Random poignant quote from Writing Down the Bones: ““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.”
‘Bird by bird’ refers to breaking down the writing process into more manageable chunks. Anne Lamott does a wonderful job of connecting with you, the reader, as she injects the reality of the writing life into her advice. The subtitle of this one is “some instructions on writing and life,” and that’s an accurate description for the often funny anecdotes and blend of wisdom Lamott shares. One of my particular favorites is her chapter on perfectionism, where she advocates fully for the value of “shitty first drafts.”
Random poignant quote from Bird by Bird: “If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it.”
If ever there was a book that equated to a much-needed kick in the arse, it’s this one. Pressfield writes in depth about the confronting the “resistance” that stops us from connecting who we are with what we really want to do (in this case, write.) Reading this feels part like you’re being led gently by the hand of a wise friend…and part like you’re being yelled at by a drill sergeant. (Which, if you’re anything like me when I sit down to write, I need the drill sergeant.) Use this book with its exploration of internal blocks and pep talk to get you going when you least want to begin.
Random poignant quote from The War of Art: “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
Whether you’re a lover or a hater of Eat, Pray, Love, chances are you’ll love Big Magic. It feels almost like the creative muse Gilbert describes has visited her with the sole purpose of gifting us this book. Not just for writers, but extra resonant with them particularly when she shares her own journey, Elizabeth Gilbert speaks to the creative in all of us and takes us back to the basics of why choosing a creative life is not only wise…it’s essential.
Random poignant quote from Big Magic: “As long as I’m still moving in that direction — toward wonder — then I know I will always be fine in my soul, which is where it counts. And since creativity is still the most effective way for me to access wonder, I choose it.”
The biggest reason The Artist’s Way is so frequently cited, why it’s had an impact on me, is creation of a concept called ‘Morning Pages.’ An on-and-off, but often very necessary, part of my routine, it is essentially “based on the belief that writing out three pages of free-form writing, in longhand, each morning, will unclog one’s mental and emotional channels of all the muck that gets in the way of being happy, productive, and creative.” (From The Artist’s Way in the Age of Self-Promotion.) This is yet another argument for getting out of our way, for creating just for the sake of creating, which can be so easily lost in today’s freelance economy and online attention spans.
Random poignant quote from The Artist’s Way: “We’ve all heard that the unexamined life is not worth living, but consider too that the unlived life is not worth examining.”
These words from a seasoned writing teacher and author speak more to the writer’s lifestyle, mindset, and approach to the world. Written in a memoir style, she shares so much wisdom about art and craft but with a softer tone. It’s less about telling you what to do and more about showing you how she’s done it.
Random poignant quote from Still Writing: “I believe that we don’t choose our stories,” she began, leaning forward. “Our stories choose us.” She paused and took a sip of water. Her hand, I noticed was steady… “And if we don’t tell them, then we are somehow diminished.”
Full disclosure, I am in the middle of reading this now, so I can’t speak to it fully. I included it because it is the most recommended book on writing that I know of, and I am certain it will be of value to many.
Random poignant quote from On Writing: “In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
Side note: I have purchased many of these titles now, as I refer to them often, but checking one or many out from your local library is also a great place to start.
And with that I wish you…