My Favorite Books About Writing
When it comes to the subject of writers’ reading habits, I always turn to the phenomenal Mr. King.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King
Reading inspires me as a writer in numerous ways. Some are obvious: I aspire to write memoir, so I read a lot of them. I also read a ton of fiction, even though I don’t desire to write it. It keeps my creative juices flowing, teaches me a lot, is entertaining, and so many other benefits.
While all of that reading is useful and motivating for my writing practice, books about the craft of writing are some of my greatest resources.
I’ve taken countless writing classes and attended workshops led by published authors. I’ve gone to readings by my favorite writers and even had a couple personal encounters with writers I admire who answered my most pressing questions.
Once when I asked David Sedaris a few questions about writing personal essays and the fears I have about mine, his reply was “You’re overthinking it Ramona.” Not many people can say they’ve gotten a truth smackdown from their biggest career inspiration…
The point here is, all of those experiences are invaluable and have taught me a great deal and increased my writing skill. And with that being said, I can say I find books about writing to hold unlimited power in a different way.
When I spend time with one of these books, it’s as if I am getting a one on one lesson from the author. I have print copies of the books listed below, which are filled with page tabs and notes, and I refer back to them repeatedly for reference. I’ve also listened to most of these audio books (where available) and took away even more than when I read the words in print. It’s like attending a lecture!
On Writing by Stephen King
This is obvious since I used his quote already, but when I first encoutnered this memoir on the craft of writing, I did not expect to take much away from it. Since King is the master of terrifying fiction, I didn’t imagine he could teach me much about memoir. However, writing is writing. No matter what the genre, all writers struggle to put time in at their desk. This was the first time I’d heard that concept and it made me feel less alone.
The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
I consider this my “textbook” on memoir writing. Karr’s advice does NOT resonate with all the non-fiction writers I know, but it does with me because the story of my childhood is kinda similar to hers, there’s questions about the truthfulness of some family members, and she’s got a snarky sense of humor too. Regardless of what you plan to write, I think this book is useful because it’s blunt and honest: No one who is genuinely “called” to be a writer is doing it because it’s fun. It’s difficult and often painful, especially for memoirists.
The Truth of Memoir by Kerry Cohen
I would call this the second part of the above mentioned theorhetical textbook. While Karr talks a lot about technique and style and the why of memoir, here Cohen assumes you are past most of that and goes right to the next step which is “How in the world do I publish what I’ve written about other people?!” Because while it’s true that my memoir is my story, there are a lot of other people who have played a part.
The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn
Like the above, this is not a book about writing technique. Penn is assuming you are answering your call and completing pieces for publication. So if you’re ready to be published, how do you go about submitting? What can you expect? What are the ethics involved and how do you handle peoples’ responses to your work? Penn answers all these questions in a straightforward manner with honesty.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
While not specifically about writing, that’s what Gilbert does and knows a lot about! This book addresses the creative endeavor in general, be that writing or painting or dancing or stand up comedy. The core message of this book is that everything hold you back is based in fear. Gilbert provides a ton of no-nonsense advice on how to tackle your fears in whatever form they may take, be it procrastination, perfectionism, or any other form.
By no means are these the only books on writing I have found useful. They’re the ones that resonated with me most and that I’ve returned to over and over again for advice and comfort. My TBR list features dozens more books about the craft of writing I have yet to get to!
What about you? Which books have helped you hone your craft and offer support when you need it most?