It’s often said that good writers are good readers.
In the early days of my career, I read everything I could get my hands on. I subscribed to over twenty different magazines and spent what little money I had in Barnes and Noble every weekend.
I don’t read nearly as much as I should anymore.
But I do carry many of the lessons from a few of my favorite books in writing.
If you’re new to writing. Or just need to reinvigorate. Cop these joints. Today.
1. On Writing by Stephen King
This is half memoir and half full of writing tips. His career tragectory is inspiring. And he’s unflinchingly honest. (Who knew he was coked up and doesn’t even remember writing some of his best work?!)
I re-read this book constantly. And any time I do an attribution in my dialogue, I envision Stephen King sitting on my shoulder. He cautions writers about using adjectives in dialogue attribution. According to King, it’s almost always unnecessary. And I agree.
“Don’t slam the door,” she said angrily.
“I love you,” she said passionately.
“I hate you,” she said forcefully.
No. no. no. Take away the -ly adjetives in dialogue attribution. A mini-Stephen King sits on my shoulder and whispers this to me whenever I’m writing.
Lots of gems like this in his book. Get it.
2. Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg
This book prepared me to write a novel. I’ve read it at least fifty times. I used to bring it into bed with me every night and read it aloud to my then-boyfriend, (now TH). He would snicker and call it a glorified self-help book. Because the book is full of inspirational, bare-bones advice about finding your inner writer.
Sidebar: Years ago, I must have been 20 or 21, I went on a family vacation with my family to the shore. I bought brand new pens and notebooks with me, envisioning endless days of writing on the beach.
I remember sitting on the beach, notebook in hand, pen poised over the paper.
And I couldn’t write a single word. I mean nothing. I ended up writing a few lines about wishing I had something to write about.
Once I choked out my first never-published novel, I was on my way. And now, at any given time, I can open a Word document and go for it. (Most of the time.)
Writing Down The Bones helped immensely. It’s filled with tips for beginning to write. She takes it back to the essence. Skip the fancy notebooks and just get a spiral joint. Make sure you have the right pen. Don’t filter yourself.
I thought about this book quite a bit as I worked on No Tea For The Fever As-Yet-Untitled. Particularly when I found myself writing scenes that scared me. We often choke on our writing because we’re thinking about the reader and what they will think of us. Goldberg reminds us that you should just try to get the words down. Love this book. Get it.
3. On Writing Well by William Zinnser
A classic. It’s about writing non-fiction but it applies to every kind of writing. Zinnser is the polar opposite of Goldberg’s touchy-feely approach. Zinnser says to sit your ass down and write like it’s a job. Because it is. It is not glamorous. It is not easy. And it is not cute. You just have to buckle down and do it. When you’re feeling like you need a kick in the pants, pick this up.
4. Dust Tracks on A Road by Zora Neale Hurston
Okay. This is an autobiography. And it’s not an instructional tool about writing. But Zora’s writing is so simple, direct and wonderful that it serves as a wonderful tool for writers. If you haven’t read it, for shame. If you have, read it again.
5. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Very similar to Goldberg’s approach, Lamott is all about getting to the essence of what it takes to get your words down. This is the book that you take with you to the park, all alone, with a cup of coffee and a pen and a notebook. It makes you feel like writing. Gives you that soft push you need to face the blank page. Cop that!
Dear readers: What books inspire you? Have you read any of the above? Have other suggestions?
I’d love to hear from you…