This is the first of a series on resources for the writer that I’ll post from time to time. Since it makes sense to start in the beginning I’m going to talk a little bit about two books that I think are great resources for writers looking for inspiration and aspiring writers who want a glimpse into what writing is all about and whether it is for them.
The first one I want to recommend is Anne Lammott’s Bird By Bird. I read Bird By Bird in graduate school and many times since. Lammott’s philosophy on writing is reflected in her title. She gently encourages the writer to take it one step at a time. One of my favorite sections of hers, and probably her most recognized by fellow writers, is the essay on first drafts. The essay is funny and inspiring. It speaks to her personal experience and to a greater universal experience: writing that first draft. The most important thing it does, however, is take the pressure off first drafts. (Most of which are terrible anyway). The rest of the book wanders between instruction and memoir. Lammott’s rich, descriptive prose prompts the reader to look at the writing process anew.
The second book I want to recommend is Stephen King’s On Writing. This book is quite different from the above in a lot of ways. King’s book emphasizes a more structured and prolific routine. King has very specific ideas regarding good vs great writing (and writers). Something that came as a surprise to me were his insightful remarks on writing what you want. I also found his thoughts on the importance of having first readers valuable. King’s book is also a mixture of craft and memoir. I found many of his personal stories intriguing, and the heavy importance he places on the support he received from his wife touching. Being a writer all of these years, working in academia, and recently becoming a wife I was able to empathize with many of the early stories.
Something that both of these books do really well is show the amount of work and willpower that it takes to write consistently. Writing, along with other art forms, can seem glamorous to the outsider. Often, the work is anything but that.
Something neither of these does much of is provide writing exercises. Both authors provide opinions and sometimes examples on the elements of craft, but it is not the main focus of either book.
There are things that I appreciate about both books and things I disagree with in both. I think the value in reading them is that, ultimately, they encourage you to think about your views on writing, how you approach it and what you want from it.