Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Library Loot #3: Books about Writing

I have been reading quite a few books lately that I have not taken the time to review.  Some of them have to do with Art and Impressionism (mostly as research for my story idea, but also for my own personal interest and education as well), and some of the books have to do with the craft of writing.  I have kept a list of all the books I have read on my Master List, but I will not necessarily review them all on the blog.  To the left you can see the collection of these writing books that I have brought home from the library over the past couple of weeks.  Some of these books have to do with particular genres of writing, some have to do with writing fiction in general, and some have to do with the process of journal writing.

However, there are a couple of noteworthy books on writing that I personally own that I have been reading as well and would like to showcase in this post.  One is, appropriately titled, On Writing by Stephen King and the other is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

I have yet to read a Stephen King novel or short story, mostly because I was misguided in my youth and I don't think I had a proper perspective of his writing.  I do plan to remedy that literary oversight sometime in the near future (perhaps Carl's RIP challenge would be the perfect time and setting).  However his modern day classic book On Writing was one that I thoroughly enjoyed.  The book is an easy read and not at all dense, but what he has to say is worth hearing.  The book is divided into three parts:  the first part is a biographical sketch of his life and how writing has always been a part; the second part focuses on the craft and necessary tools of writing; and the last portion is a rather post-script describing his near-death accident and how writing was instrumental to his full recovery.

In essence I believe Mr. King's book can be summarized in just a few short quotes:
  • Every writer needs a toolbox and the essential tools include:  vocabulary usage - grammar rules- little to no passive voice - few adverbs - Strunk and White's writing style
  • Every writer needs to read --- a lot!!  If a writer isn't reading, then a writer is not honing his/her craft
  • Every writer needs to write --- a lot!!  Sure writers can take classes and go to conferences and workshops, but if a writer wants to improve --- a writer needs to write:  PERIOD
That is the essence of the book (in my humble opinion) and I must say that I finished the book with renewed hope and optimism.  Is writing hard work -- absolutely (oops --an adverb!).  Is writing worthwhile, even if you don't earn a dime --- again, absolutely.  I now must do as he admonishes and shut that door and just write.

Another modern-day classic for those who want to learn the craft of writing is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.  I had read this book last summer, but was drawn to read it again when Belle formed a Facebook Discussion Group this summer (it is definitely not too late to join if you have an interest).  Now Ms. Lamott's writing style is a bit unconventional to say the very least (for example, one of the most famous and worthwhile chapters in the book is called Sh*tty First Drafts --- except she does not use the asterisk).  She is funny --- and knowledgeable and no-nonsense.  I mean, she calls a spade a spade and she lets you know what a writer's life is truly like (romantic --- NO but if you are born to write there is nothing quite like it in the world).

This book is far more dense than that of Stephen King; I mean, nearly every chapter has numerous nuggets of information that are worth jotting down, reviewing, savoring, and re-reading again and again.  Currently I am only about half-way through this intense reading of the book, but I will focus my attention on the two sections that spoke volumes to me - and which I commented on in the facebook discussion.  I have just done a copy and paste here --- hopefully no one minds:
  • Perfectionism:  "....if you want to write, you get to, but you probably won't get very far if you don't start trying to get over your perfectionism. You set out to tell a story of some sort, to tell the truth as you feel it, because something is calling you to do so."  I do feel called to do so. And I know that my fear of being imperfect (which is totally irrational because we are all imperfect) hinders my ability to take that one small baby step toward a dream - toward not settling for "this is as good as it's going to get" and start living for "all the possibilities"
  • Writers Observe:  In the chapter called Looking Around AL (once again) reiterates that a writer is a keen observer of human nature. As someone who has spent the past two decades trying to do as much as I can in as little time as possible (the world calls that efficiency - I call it ludicrous!) my sense of observation (and awe) have atrophied. This summer my priority project is to try to slowly build these muscles back up.

    In that chapter she writes (on page 101 in my version): "If you start to look around, you will start to see." While this may seem like a very obvious statement, it is quite profound.

    I immediately married this statement with my new-found interest in photography and discovered that the camera helps me to focus - to stop and look around --- to see the hidden treasures of life's mundane landscape. Much like AL describes in the chapter on Short Assignments, my 2.5 inch view finder on the digital camera is much like her 1 inch picture frame on the desk. It forces me to see the world from a different perspective; sometimes a more manageable perspective that is filled with awe and wonder -- the way life is meant to be appreciated.
My guess is that everyone has a few favorites when it comes to books on writing.  If you have one that you particularly enjoy, I would love to hear about it.  This is obviously a focus of mine this summer!


  1. When I saw the title of your posting, I wondered if you would mention Bird by Bird. So happy you did! It is a wonderful book --one of my all-time favorites; whether you are a writer or not you will gain something from this book of instructions "on writing and life". I still remind myself when faced with a huge project to tackle it (build it, draw it) "bird by bird."

  2. I picked up Stephen King's book at the library sale, but put it on the shelf and haven't looked at it. Thanks for reminding me it's there! Bird by Bird has come up a couple of times as a possible book club selection. I'd like to take a closer look at that one, too.

  3. I don't think I've read any books on writing. :( I haven't read any of Stephen King's work either.

  4. IOt has been a long while ago, but Stephen King's On Writing was a terrifc audio read by him! His story was fascinating about how he began writing as a child.

  5. Those are 2 of my faves! Good choices!!

  6. King's book is often suggested as a great on for writers. I don't have a lot of desire to be an author, so I haven't read it -- shame on me.

  7. On Writing is the only Stephen King I've ever read, which is probably not fair to Stephen King, especially since I really liked it. And I cannot say enough good things about Bird by Bird.

    These books are well-regarded for some very good reasons!

  8. I've read the Stephen King one and have Bird by Bird on my TBR. If you are going to read King I would recommend The Stand or The Talisman.

  9. Thanks for these Molly. I haven't read either, but I think they are just what I need to kick me into gear.

  10. I've heard great things about the two books you've featured here. I haven't really gotten into books about writing, but I do love reading books about books.

  11. Yay! Thanks for shining a light on two of my favorite books on writing!! I agree with you wholeheartedly and I think that even those who pooh-pooh Stephen King should read his book. (When you read him, you'll be amazed at how he can draw you in. But pick carefully ... not everything he writes is great. I personally loved "Bag of Bones" to death ... and his short story collections still haunt me to this day.)

    And I hope you can track down that Brenda Ueland book ... it will speak volumes to you I think.

    Also, there is one by Natalie Goldberg called "Writing Down the Bones" that I think it worth looking into as well.

    Oh ... I'm inspired by your summertime meme. I'm going to work on a post for my personal blog tomorrow and hope to post it Friday. Thanks for that ... I kept thinking about that quote you shared all week and then the post started to form in my mind! Thanks for inspiring me to write!!

  12. I listened to the audio version of "On Writing" read by Stephen King earlier this year. It was great! I haven't read a ton of his work, but have enjoyed what I have read. My favorite was Hearts in Atlantis.

  13. Fantastic post, Molly.

    I am working now on writing a children's book and have been interested in getting my hands on more writing books. I have King's On Writing but have not read it yet. Sounds like he has valuable information in it.

  14. Those two books have long been two of my favourites, Molly. I have wanted to be a writer since I was a child, and wrote the first draft of my novel after I picked up Walter Mosley's Write your Novel This Year. I recommend that one very much! Also the Brenda Ueland book, If You Want to Write, it is excellent. I like how Stephen King talks about uncovering the bones of the story. That's something I am just beginning to learn how to do.

    Good post, Molly! I also enjoyed the link you made between writing and photography, 'seeing' the world. I have been an amateur photographer for years, but you just made the link for me, why I do both!! thanks :-)


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