If you haven’t noticed, writers like to write about writing. It’s only natural. The written word is our natural form of expression and mental processing so we write about our experiences with the craft and pursuit of our art.
But writing about writing also serves to connect us to one another. We learn from the writers who’ve gone before us, the writers we respect, the writers we wish to emulate. We discover that we are not alone in our struggles, our questions, or our victories. It’s a valuable thing to read one another’s reflections on the writing life.
Though I dream of a home library like the one in Beauty and the Beast, my apartment living currently limits me to one bookshelf and whatever other assorted surfaces I can lay claim too. A windowsill, a desk, the floor along the bedroom’s perimeter. Even so, I have a section already devoted to the books on writing that I like to keep close at hand. Merely glancing at their spines serves as a reminder of the collective wisdom between their covers as well as companionship along the writing journey.
As I look over my collection, I thought I’d share some stand out titles for your perusal.
What I’m Reading Now.
DIY MFA by Gabriela Pereira takes you inside the terminal degree in the creative writing field–the MFA. Pereira points out that the formal MFA isn’t for everyone but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the structures and habits that the programs typically emphasize. Pereira breaks down the core of the MFA into three categories–write with focus, read with purpose, and build your community
It’s easy-to-read and well-organized. The author approaches the writing of the book as if she is teaching a class. Full of activities, ideas, and helpful tools to help you apply insights of the MFA to your writing, DIY MFA is a goldmine for growing in your knowledge of the craft.
The First Writing Book I Read.
Well, maybe not the literal first, but it’s the first one I remember reading as a young writer getting serious about improving. Donald Maass is a high-profile literary agent and bestselling author who writes about the craft of fiction. As in any treatise on craft, there will be things to take to heart and others to let go–that’s the necessary discernment of any reader–based on what you write and your approach to writing. Regardless of varied opinions folk seem to have in reaction to Maass, this book has stuck with me. It trained me in the common language of the craft and helped me understand and recognize many of the elements of fiction that I was just learning to decipher and consider. I still think about passages from this book on a near weekly basis.
You won’t go long in writing circles before you encounter Stephen King’s classic On Writing. Stephen King is a prolific and profound writer. He’s not just the horror author you may have thought him to be. His insights on writing are well-worded and oft-quoted. I’ll admit I haven’t read the whole thing, though I’ve read many excerpts in writing classes over the years, but it’s certainly on my to-read list. This is a must read for the writing life. As a friend who discovered this book a few months ago enthusiastically declared, “This book is changing my life!”
The One I Didn’t Finish…But Never Forgot.
Though Writing Past Dark is another of the books that I haven’t read cover-to-cover it has stuck with me. As a freshman in college I was going through a particularly dark and difficult stage in my writing life. I was filled with doubt, emptied of words, and feeling quite alone. I picked up this book and started reading while working out on the exercise bike. I had to leave the gym because I started crying while pedaling. Even in the first ten pages the book showed that I was not alone and called me out on the thoughts and bad attitudes I’d been harboring. It started me on some writerly soul-searching. Bonnie Friedman opens up the “emotions and dilemmas writers face” with vulnerability and insight. Though I’ve really only started the book before, it’s already had an impact on me. I also know it’s one I’ll keep coming back to.
My All Time Favorite.
I first read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird as a junior in high school. My Advanced Creative Writing teacher assigned our class to read a book about the writing life. Lamott made me laugh, cry, and nod vigorously. This book is real, amusing, and companionable–like a kindred spirit. I’ve quoted this one countless times. I’ll read it again and again, until the covers fall off and the pages are worn thin. You don’t want to miss Bird by Bird, a book beautifully summarized by its subtitle “Some Instructions on Writing and Life.”
That’s just a peek at the bookshelf. Have you read any of these books? There are plenty more to discover of course. What are some of your favorite books about writing? Share with us!