Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Books on Writing

A former student asked me to give her the name of some helpful books on writing.

"Practical or inspirational?" I asked.

She wanted both.

I agree.

Most of us who love to write already understand the rudimentary skills of writing. We aren't looking for books on grammar (although refreshers don't hurt). We want to know how other writers actually do it. We want their secrets, the inside scoop. We want to know if we really need to write at the same hour a day, producing fifty pages of text each day. We want a reason to pick up a pen or sit down at our keyboard and produce text.

Okay - here are a few that I have found particularly helpful, but also deliciously comforting (in no particular order)...



1) Bird by Bird - Anne Lammott

I love this book by Anne because she makes me laugh - and she assures me that I am not alone. She understands the pain, the insecurity and the neuroses that come with being a writer. She also gives some sage advice. One of my favorite bits is to use small frames. Shrink the area you are writing about to a more narrow focus. She compares writing about elementary school to the much easier task of writing about your school lunch - or (better yet) the sandwich you took to school.



2) Walking on Water - Madeleine L'Engle

This is a book for writers and artists who want to imbue their faith into their art. They want to be known not as a "Christian" writer (if there is such a thing), but as a writer who is implicitly and uncompromisingly Christian. The author of A Wrinkle in Time speaks from her heart here in a real and open and honest way.



3) On Writing - Stephen King

I am not a horror fan. However, I found Stephen's book on writing to be fresh and funny and inspirational. He shares his autobiography - how he happened to do what he does - and also the nitty gritty details (such as the place where he writes). He says, "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."



4) Writing for the Soul - Jerry B. Jenkins

I know Jerry through my work at Moody Bible Institute. For someone whose books, the Left Behind series, have sold millions of copies, I find that he is amazingly down to earth and sarcastic (which I love). I appreciate this book where he tells his own writing journey and gives very helpful advice to fellow and aspiring writers. "The path is crowded and the passages long, but the reward is worth it. You can write fore the benefit of your soul. And you can write to reach the soul of another."


5) Mystery and Manners - Flannery O'Connor

Flannery writes about writing - and those who adore her short stories won't be disappointed. "As a novelist, the major part of my task is to make everything, even an ultimate concern, as solid, as concrete, as specific as possible." She is a soulful writer, and this book is filled with soul-filling advice.



6) On Writing Well - William Zinsser; Elements of Style - Struck and White; The AP Stylebook

These are the nitty gritty - the books that should sit on every serious writer's shelves. Buy them if you don't have them. Read them. Remember the basics. Look up what you don't know. Check and re-check and make sure you have it right.

If you use its instead of it's - no one will be able to "hear" what you are saying. If you want to get published (and most of us do), you need to clean up your wise and witty prose.

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In addition to these books, I follow the facebook pages of Kate DiCamillo and Elizabeth Berg - both writers who I enjoy and admire. I love to hear their thoughts of the day - and even their facebook posts reveal their unique styles of prose.

Feel free to add more to my list! I love recommendations!
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