I love to read about writing, to the point that it becomes an easy-to-justify avoidance technique:
“I just need to see how _____________ approaches writer’s block/plot/ideas/ structure/ description/dialogue. Then I’ll know what to do.”
Have you been there too?
Nevertheless, books on writing also inspire, encourage and nudge us along.
Here are some books that helped me on the writing path, guided certain life choices, or are on my to-read in the near future:
Starting from the bottom up:
- A follow-up to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is The Right to Write. If you read the first book, some of this will be repetitive, i.e. morning pages, artist dates.
- Let The Crazy Child Write, by Clive Matson. I have not as yet gone through the whole book, but I choose different exercises. I need to go through it systematically – a creative writing course in less than 300 pages. Let your “crazy child” out and your creativity run wild!
- On my e-reader is Stephen King’s On Writing. Since I like to sleep at night, I’ve never read any of his novels. On Writing not only let me sleep, but gave me tools to work with (I mean that literally, he uses a toolbox as metaphor for what writers need). I also remind myself that most of the time we just need to show up and do the work, day after day after day. You may not always want to (like now – I’d rather be reading), but King also has his days when he doesn’t feel like writing. So he writes anyway. It’s part memoir as well; how he describes his injuries suffered when a van plowed into him in 1999 is harrowing.
- On my To-Read list is How Not to Write a Novel. I read a recommendation somewhere about applying the 80/20 rule to writing: figure out what works rather than slog through pages and pages of verbiage in a stream-of-consciousness way and hope a novel results from it. Being aware of what doesn’t work is a big part of getting to a 20% outlay of effort to achieve 80% results. If nothing else, it’s supposed to be a funny read. (Update: January, 2018: even non-writers will enjoy this book. It is funny, as well as practical and an easy read, though it may send you back to your posts/stories for some re-editing.)
- The Art of Memoir, another to-read book. Maybe I should read Karr’s actual memoirs first, but The Art of Memoir gets consistently good reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and elsewhere and memoir writing is a long-term project for which I have notes and “don’t forget to include this” reminders in my writing binder. (Update: January, 2018: My list of “to read” books increased several fold while reading Karr’s book. Which won’t help me stop procrastinating and get some actual writing done.)
- Natalie Goldberg’s wonderful Writing Down the Bones. It’s zen, yet practical. It’s vulnerable and real and brave. Not to mention it has terrific exercises that gets your brain thinking in different ways. One of my favourites:
- fold a sheet of paper in half lengthwise, and on the left, list 10 nouns, anything that comes to mind
- think of an occupation, i.e. carpenter, doctor, flight attendant
- on the right hand side list 15 verbs that go with that position
- open the page. Join nouns and verbs to see what new combinations you can get, then finish the sentences (change verb tense if needed)
This practice opened my eyes to how I’ve paralyzed my descriptive voice by being too tame and ordinary.
- A thesaurus. A good old paperback thesaurus. I love dictionaries and thesauruses/thesauri (yes, I looked it up). Paper copies. Checking something online is quick, but when I open a thesaurus or dictionary and let my eyes wander the pages for unknown words and similes, I glimpse a different English than the one I’m accustomed to. It’s like bumping into someone you usually see in jeans and a t-shirt all dressed up for a night out on the town.