“While I’m writing, I’m far away;
and when I come back, I’ve gone.”
~ Pablo Neruda
Like most writers, I also love to read. Like most writers, I need to sharpen my skills through disciplined practice—and to be inspired by great writers.
If you love reading and writing, too, I hope you’ll find this list of recommendations useful! As always, please add to the list by leaving a comment with your favorite title(s).
1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
The prolific novelist from Maine has written dozens of bestsellers over the past four decades. While he usually sticks to thrillers in the horror genre, this one—written by King in the year 2000—is part memoir, part instructional guide and all about the art and craft of writing. His advice is frank, clear and compelling for all writers, of any genre.
2. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
A favorite professor gave me a copy of this classic when I took her writing class as part of my Masters in Education program a few years back. Zen practitioner, painter, poet and (above all) writer, Natalie Goldberg pretty much revolutionized the approach to the teaching and practice of writing with this masterpiece. It’s an amazing and practical book with humorous, innovative advice designed to enhance every writer and aspiring writer’s craft.
3. The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron
What if everything we have been taught about learning to write is wrong? Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, a classic treatise on creativity, shares unconventional advice and inspiration specifically for writers in this volume. One of the practices Cameron prescribes,“Morning Pages,” urges the writer to create a daily ritual of putting on paper whatever is on her mind, stream-of-consciousness style, each morning.
4. Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Irreverent author Anne Lamott charmed me with her solid, friendly and witty advice on writing. I especially like her chapters on getting over writer’s block and on finding one’s voice as a writer.
5. Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You by Ray Bradbury
In this accessible collection, master storyteller and sci-fi writer of such classics as Fahrenheit 451, the late, great Ray Bradbury shares nine essays chock full of inspiration for writers. I’ll share one of his particularly koan-like quotes: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
6. Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg
Natalie made the list twice; she is that good! This one is all about memoir, as the subtitle says. It includes dozens of useful, interesting three and ten-minute writing prompts and brief excerpts from great memoirs interspersed throughout the instructional sections. Twice a memoirist herself, Goldberg humbly and clearly outlines the many factors that add up to quality memoir writing.
7. The Elements of Style by E. B. White & William Strunck Jr.
Whether we like it or not, correct grammar is the foundation of good writing. In our modern era of text messages and emails filled with emoticons, acronyms and abbreviations, it’s refreshing to read quality, coherent, literate writing. This thin volume lays out the rules and guidelines of English grammar and usage in a user-friendly and organized fashion.
8. Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan G. Wooldridge
I read this book when I was teaching a middle school English course a couple of years ago. It’s full of great ideas for poetry prompts which work well for both teenagers and adults. Writing workshop leader Wooldridge puts the fun back in to poetry writing and helps us get back in touch with our creative, poetic inner child.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise