I love books, and I love writing. It follows that I would have several books about writing.
1. Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine
My parents bought this for me at a Scholastic Book Fair in elementary school and I had read it by the time we got home. So I promptly read it again. Already a fan of Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, and The Princess Tales series, I wanted to learn how one of my favorite authors made her books come alive. It might be written for 4th graders, but I’ve revisited the prompts and advice in this book time after time, even now that I’m in college. This was the book that instructed me never to get rid of anything I write – and, cringe-worthy as some of my early “stories” are, I’ve followed that mandate ever since I read it.
I think reading this was also a step in taking ownership of my writing process. At one point, Levine writes that to her, revision is a relief: “When I’m working on a first draft, I feel like a prisoner…I notice a bit of moisture condensing on the walls, four or five beads of water. Each bead is an idea. I scrape them off and write feverishly till I use them up. Then I wait for more moisture. But when I finish my first draft, the walls come down…No more waiting for condensation. All I have to do is make the book better.” I feel the opposite way. I hate revising. It feels like I’m penned in, cut off from the excitement of finding out where the story goes. But that, Levine acknowledges, is just as legitimate a process as her own.
2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Part memoir, part writing advice book, part general life advice book, this is another one I reread over and over. I just love the way Lamott writes, the anecdotes she tells, and the brutal honesty she displays about writing. It sucks sometimes, trying to be a writer. Lamott doesn’t romanticize it, but she also understands that it’s not about fun (or at least, not entirely). It’s that you have to write, or go crazy. Or maybe a little bit of both.
Lamott gives advice more episodically than anything else, but that makes her relatable as another writer. When I discovered Levine’s writing guide, I was looking up to an idol; this was my introduction to Lamott’s writing, so I took the advice differently.
Best of all, the stories she tells and the people she quotes send me running to look them up. I actually bought another book on this list purely because Lamott quotes from it a few times.
3. Do Story by Bobette Buster
This one has a bit of a back story. I found it originally in a bookshop down an alley in Nottingham, UK, but didn’t have enough cash on hand. When I went back, the last copy had been sold – a trial run of only 5 copies, the proprietor said. But if I emailed him, he’d let me know when he got another order in. Which turned out to be the day I went home. So instead he put me directly in touch with the publisher so I could order my book, regardless of whether he ever saw a penny. I think I love the book more for the story of obtaining than for any advice it gave me. (So by the way, if you’re ever in Nottingham, go find Ideas On Paper down an alley from Market Square – it’s worth it!) Although this little book is more about storytelling in general than writing specifically, I liked what it had to say. It emphasizes the idea that everyone has a story to tell, and everyone’s story is valuable. It also plucks examples from history, showing how our ever-shifting global culture depends on stories like ours, and on telling those stories well. “And, why should you do this? Risk your vulnerability? Because…someone is telling a story all the time…it is necessary for us to harness our own stories, and tell them well. If not, then someone else will come in and wallpaper our culture with their stories…In the end, all you have is your story. Tell us your story. Do.”
4. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
After reading excerpts from various bits and pieces of this book in numerous creative writing classes, I figured I might as well go ahead and read the whole thing. Specifically, I loved the chapter/section/essay on living twice. I loved the idea that being a writer makes you experience the world differently, and not always at the same pace as everyone else. This is also a book that can be read in fits and starts, depending on how much time one has. I haven’t read all of it, but I read the sections I need when I need them.