Monday, August 9, 2010


"A Few Classic Books For A Writer's Bookshelf"

"Writing is a process of self-discipline you must learn before you can call yourself a writer. There are people who write, but I think they're quite different from people who must write."
~Harper Lee, author
from a 1964 interview

Writers must read. The mass of titles about writing available year after year make choosing suitable books daunting. The "good ones" never go out of style and the information is timeless, because there are writers who write and writers who MUST WRITE or life is unbearable. Either way, a writer will appreciate the kernels of knowledge found in the following classic books about writing.

BECOMING A WRITER, Dorothea Brande (J.P. Tarcher, Inc.)

Brande taught creative writing in the 1920's, but her guidance is still very aplicable to the writing life and process. She admits that writing "genius" cannot be taught but because it is a writer's magic that creates the good writing and not something more cerebral. Granted, the intellect must achieve a level of functional correctness such as grammar and punctuation, but the process of accessing the story is very teachable to anyone. Brande encourages reading "all the technical books on the writing of fiction that you can find," as well as tapping into honesty for the true source of a writer's originality. This book is considered a classic among writing texts and is available in reprinted versions regularly. I like that Brande recommends meditation as part of a writer's process but she calls it "Artistic Coma."

IF YOU WANT TO WRITE, A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit, Brenda Ueland
(Graywolf Press)

Ueland refers to genius in her book as well, but, as the title infers, she challenges the foundations of people who think they want to write. Her goal is for the reader to understand conceptually that writing is art and real art, quoting Leo Tolstoi, " infection." It is something a writer notices about themselves and simply must infect others with and so he writes! I love the symbolism of art/writing as an infection and the only cure is to write the art down and share it with others. That is a great metaphor for the compulsion necessary to continue writing. Granted, some writing days are better than others, but the persistence never burns out for some writers, and Ueland provides a handy book of reinforcements or "medicine" for those infected by the writing bug. The best part is that Ueland believes that EVERYONE is a valuable writer on some level. Good book, also readily available as a classic reprint.

BIRD BY BIRD, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott
(Anchor Books)

If you are a 21st century writer and haven't read this wonderful book, you are missing an important piece of the writer's tool kit: acceptance. "The only constant is change" says the Greek proverb and that is sometimes harder to cope with than others. Lamott has come through the fires as a person and a writer and even though this too is an older book, its messages are timeless. Once you read this one, you will understand that writing is a process that requires certain steps performed in a particular order over and over and one at a time. Still in print and should never go out in my opinion.

Right now I'm reading THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ROMANTIC LOVE, ROMANTIC LOVE IN AN ANTI-ROMANTIC AGE, by Nathaniel Branden, Tarcher/Penguin.

Check out my recent book reviews online:
THE DAUGHTERS, Joanna Philbin


Be well, write well,

Copyright Joy Held 2010

1 comment:

  1. Hmm. I've just never been able to get into books about writing. I know people who swear by them, though.