Monday, April 02, 2012

The Best Books on Writing

In my first book proposal I included a chapter about writing a book because I thought it would be deliciously "meta" but one of the editors I sent it to said, "Yeah, don't talk about the writing process." I think "unless you are a writer" was implied. I love to read books by writers about writing and I think these are the best:

If you are only going to read one book about writing it should be John Trimble's.
 I read it as a senior in high school and it was the first time I ever thought about writing companionably. Before, I wanted to keep the reader (which was only ever an English teacher) at bay with big words that made it seem like I had something to say. After I read Trimble--who exemplifies all his writing advice--I started to think of the audience as my bud and--what do you know--now you are.

It's also good to have a grammar book on hand. I like the illustrated William Strunk.
This book is kind of an engineering feat, if writing were engineering. (Is writing like engineering? I wouldn't know because I don't know what engineering is or, in point of fact, how airplanes fly.) It's clever and readable but also about grammar--that equals a feat, man. 

Another wonderful book about writing is Stephen King's.
I actually read this book before I read any of Stephen King's fiction. I loved it and it made me love him. It is so good and interesting and his style is worth trying to copy. I think it's OK to try to copy styles that you like. It's good practice and--here's the thing--you'll fail and your real voice will come through.

The Artist's Way is very inspiring even though I feel sort of embarrassed by some of its touchy-feely stuff. This book gives you exercises and good advice. The exercises could be blog posts if you want, so it would be great if you want to a) get better at blogging and b) have something to blog about.

I think maybe I wish I were Anne Lamott and I wrote this book. Unfortunately, I'm not. And I didn't. 

All my "creative projects" are at least twice removed from what I would consider real creative projects because I don't get paid for them and they aren't really art. I didn't really think making playlists, planning ward parties, or blogging counted. But then I read Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit and decided to just go ahead and think of all my projects as legit. Why not? I do no harm and it makes me happy.
Acting legit makes you more legit. So I try, which is why I have business cards that say "writer."

And these are on my "To Read" list. Anymore I should add?
Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing.

Annie Dillard's The Writing Life

On Moral Fiction by John Gardner--I'm really excited to read this as I view writing as a kind of moral act which basically explains why I feel justified in hating some people just based on their writing.

It think it's cool (even if it's a cliche) to be a frustrated writer. Let's get T-shirts that say something ironic about it.


  1. I love these books, too, and your blogging and book proposals and playlists and ward parties ARE worked of art. For real, man.

  2. No, you are totally an artists and your writing is legit.

    You should add Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, and Wild Mind, in the same vein and the follow up to WDtB. They are good. They have been worthy companions to my writing life.

    1. I've got these in my cart at Amazon. Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. i still have my copy of trimble from freshman year! thank you, honors 200.

  4. I love Writing Down the Bones, too. (Now I know what to get you for your birthday!)

  5. I am going to read the Stephen King book! I remember in high school writing his "most important things are the hardest to say" quote on my folder, where I should have been writing boys' names. Also, I really enjoyed Amy Tan's writing book. Love the part memoir, part writing process format.

  6. I'm totally getting that shirt. Writing Down the Bones...people aren't lying. Good stuff.

  7. I've had that Stephen King book in my amazon cart for forever. It's my birthday next week and I might just treat myself.

  8. I always like the idea of T-shirts with clever sayings, but then I remember that I have so many already and I never wear any of them because wearing T-shirts makes me feel frumpy.

  9. I remember you alerting me to the Stephen King book - I still am not a fan of his fiction, but I did find that book very insightful - and loved his memoir.


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