3 Books for Aspiring Writers

On Writing – Stephen King I’ve never been a fan, or even read, Stephen King but this was full of interesting autobiography, details of his process, advice and encouragement. He starts the book talking about how it is not a biography, but then proceeds to detail his childhood, meeting his wife, becoming a father, his struggles with addiction and eventual success in writing. He puts great emphasis on the strength of his relationships (especially his wife and first reader Tabby) and health as essential. He also stressed the importance of actually liking to write. The advice was in some ways very common: write every day, do at least 2 drafts, don’t use adjectives, never use adverbs, ect. Some of this distanced me, especially the write every day part, which is not how I write. He also had some really interesting idea about how a story is born. He compares a story to an artifact buried underground, that you have to dig up and identify like an archeologist would. He also includes notes on how authors he knows or has studied practice the craft in ways completely different from himself. Although I enjoyed all the book, my favorite parts are where he details the process by which he came up with and wrote his biggest successes. They are probably way too scary for me, but he is kind of genius.

Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott One of my very best friends gave me this book. Anne’s advice for writing is pretty simple. She basically is arguing that you have to do the work to get the pay off. You have to walk before you can run. What stands out about her suggested process is that she doesn’t just focus on practices of craft, she suggests that beginning writers spend a great deal of time writing about their childhood. That seems in line with the recent buzz about people using creative writing and writing classes in lieu of therapy. I really enjoyed this book, but what didn’t sit right with me were her continued and almost bitter assertions that writing won’t make you $$$ or famous. This book has made Anne Lamont both. So, I don’t know exactly what to make of that. As a writer and a writing teacher I put a lot of stock in her advice and the writing exercises she includes in the book. She illustrates the editing process very well, something that has changed the way I write.

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers – John Gardner This is pretty much a bible for me when it comes to the do’s and don’ts of writing. Three of my best (and most successful) writing teachers assigned this and lauded it as the best book a beginning writer could read and try to absorb. In the first pages Gardner asserts that every person he’s met who knew what it meant to be a writer and still wanted to be one accomplished this goal. I think about this quote a lot. It seems to be encouraging and taunting at the same time. He believes in learning primarily from myth and the classics. Which is funny because his examples are mostly contemporary. His chapter on “Common Errors” is probably the one I’ve read the most. I also suggest the chapters “Interest and Truth” which gets to the heart of what fiction really would be and “Technique” which detail the importance of pacing, word choice and rhythm. Gardner can be a huge literary snob, but his advice is so spot on.

3 thoughts on “3 Books for Aspiring Writers

  1. I’ve never read any of these, but I will someday. It’s always interesting to read essays by writers on the art of writing. One I really enjoyed was Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition.” Completely changed the way I think of poetry and short stories, especially as a literary studies major.

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