My Favorite Books on Writing and What They Taught Me
“Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.” - Paul-Desmond
A few years back, when I began to get serious about the craft of writing, I turned to several different sources to help me learn. I took classes, I read a ton of books both inside and outside of my genre with the analytical insight of a writer, I wrote as much as I could, and I poured over books about writing.
There are a a lot of writing books out there. The following is a short list of some of the books I found helpful over the past few years in learning the craft, struggling with specific problems, and finding inspiration.
The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield – Every writer struggles with resistance. Resistance to sitting down in front of the computer, to writing the next line, to revising that difficult chapter, to sending out that first (or fiftieth) query letter. Pressfield's book taught me how to identify and conquer the demons of resistance by acknowledging them, refusing to fight them, moving past them, and doing the task at hand no matter how much the forces of resistance wanted me to give up. His method is like aikido for your inner demons. Nothing makes resistance go away for good, but Pressfield's book gives you a weapon to use against it.
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott's gently humorous guide to the writing life is at the same time a practical handbook of how to overcome common writing problems like perfectionism and an overactive inner editor and provides a warm voice of companionship on lonely nights of writing and re-writing. Lamott makes it okay to write "shitty first drafts", to feel jealous of other writers' successes, to fail over and over until you succeed. Her tips on how to silence to critical voices in your head long enough to get a first draft done made this book one of my favorites.
Immediate Fiction – A few years back I struggled with the old "show, not tell" thing. Sure, I understood the theory, but I had trouble applying it in my own work, or so a few plain-speaking critiquers told me. Then writer/editor Michelle Scott recommended Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver, and I "got" it. Cleaver explained "show, not tell" in a way that I could apply to my work. He also does a bang-up job of showing how to describe emotion. Immediate Fiction is the best book I've found for these two elements of writing.
The Artist's Way – Julia Cameron's classic work has helped me build and sustain my writing practice by making sure that I always replentish the creative well that I draw upon when I write. While I haven't been the most regular adherant to the "morning pages" program espoused by The Artist's Way, I do suscribe to the Artist's Date plan. An Artist's Date is a date you make with yourself to do something creative every week – go to a museum, make jewelry, paint, draw, make a collage, - anything creative that inspires you and helps keep your creativity level high. Her advice on how to deal with criticism has also been helpful.
What are your favorite books on writing, and why? Leave me a comment below and share a few.