Stephen King once said that the best way to write well is to read as much as possible. Often, writers, especially new ones, sit down in front of a keyboard or with a pencil in hand and fail to create. They struggle with ideas, with concepts, and with getting that first word down.
Like any other pursuit, whether it is a hobby or a profession, the mystery surrounding the art of writing well is complex and virtually impossible to solve, which creates some frustrating moments in the life of a would-be writer. And while this struggle, ironically enough, is part of the draw that pulls people in and makes them long to put words to page, the background knowledge a writer can and should possess is within their own control.
Reading about writing, though a bit odd sounding, can do an immeasurable amount of good for any writer. Aspiring novelists, budding journalists, or internet freelancers all wish to generate work worthy of being read. They try to establish a following, a respect, which will make their toils significant and worthwhile.
Many adhere to the advice of some old English teacher way back in ninth grade, who said, “If you want to write, write as much as possible”. While relevant, the advice is too limiting. That teacher should have also said, “Read as much as you can, even if it is about writing itself”. Thus, in the end, writers should control their destiny as much as possible, and packing as much conceivable knowledge in their brains regarding the art of writing by establishing a personal “writing library” will make them understand the process.
Learning from those who have had success in what you want to do is a simple way to begin the steep learning curve that is writing.
The five books that follow will give each writer chances to reflect on the process, learn much needed skills, and associate with the pitfalls of the craft. Becoming friendly with each will better the life of each writer who sits down and gets to intimately know each one.
1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.
While taking his reader on an autobiographical journey through his early years as an unsuccessful writer, King provides practical advice on staying the course, managing failure, establishing a writing “toolbox”, and making writing a part of life. He is both blunt and sympathetic, but, most of all, he is true and passionate.
2. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg with a forward by Judith Guest, author of Ordinary People.
While countless books exist on the stacks of every bookstore that reveal the secrets of how to avoid bad writing, Goldberg bucks that trend and instead crafts a piece that refreshingly discusses how to construct good writing. She works to “uneducate” writers by subtracting rules and freeing the writer’s soul. The experience with the book is both empowering and liberating, for you feel you can actually write with passion and creativity without feeling the weight of constraining rules.
3. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.
Lamott attempts to take the complexity out of the process and to remove the enormity of the task. With skill and grace, she encourages writers to start small, to care deeply about the characters and not the plot, to engross one’s self in the heart of the piece rather than in just the end product. Admirably, she reminds writers that even if few read the piece, to have completed it with heart is an honorable thing.
4. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. , and E.B.White.
Heavy on the proper rules of writing well, Strunk and White provide an endless classic in the world of word craftsmanship. They give the reader a solid and concise look at the practical purposes in composition and usage of the English language. While certainly not an inspirational book, no piece exists that will do more for a writer’s understanding of the language he employs than Strunk and White’s masterpiece.
5. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner.
Called “the best thing to happen to grammar since Strunk and White“, this book makes the technical and often intimidating language of grammar both tolerable and simple. In ten basic lessons, O’Conner reviews how to take the sting out of common grammar errors that often disrupt a writer’s work and, thus, a reader’s interpretation. Fun and easy to read, O’Conner’s book is a must for any writer’s bookshelf.
In the end, a writer must commit to reading about the subject. He or she must not only develop the discipline to be undisciplined, but also the skill set to do so with grace and style. Knowing your craft lets you reach and impact your readers, and isn’t that what it’s all about?