Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
This book is a classic for a reason. It’s full of solid advise and insights, wrapped in Anne’s wry wit. But Bird by Bird earned a cozy place in my heart for two very personal reasons. While I read it–more like absorbed it–I saw myself in her pages. As I was nodding my head, I realized I related to Anne’s words and experiences because I really am a writer. Not a writer-wanna-be, but someone with the heart of a real writer. Mmm-mmm-mmm. That’s some good soul-sticking stuff right there.
While I’m at it, I may as well confess my silly association with this book. I recall reading Bird by Bird for the first time by lamplight, alone in my living room. My daughter came running in when she heard me let out a loud gasp. I had just read the part where Anne shares about having her nostrils removed. You read that right–her nostrils! (Silly me. My eyes transposed a few letters. Anne had her tonsils removed. Oh, right, tonsils. Sure. I knew that.)
Take Joy, a Book for Writers by Jane Yolen
Lots of reasons to love and read this little volume. First off, Jane Yolen wrote it. That’s reason enough. Secondly, I love the title because it’s based on one of my favorite quotes from Fra Giovanni–“The gloom of this world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take joy.” Jane’s book is a warm, lovely mixture of instruction, wisdom, observation and encouragement.
Making a Literary Life, Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers by Carolyn See
Whether she intended to be or not, I think Carolyn See is a hoot. While she does devote about half of her book to craft, in the first half she talks about things like how to pretend to be a writer (hey, we all have to start somewhere) and she offers advise I’ve never seen included in any other book on writing–how to dress for your first trip to New York (seriously–right down to the jewelry), about sending charming notes (every day) to help you make connections with publishing people, about writing a thousand words a day, and about setting up a writing account to help you make your writing life a reality. She’s so pragmatic and dramatic at the same time. And by the way, I took Carolyn’s advise on the writing account and I’m so glad I did. Whenever I sell a little article or make a bit of extra cash, I tuck it in that account. Knowing the money is there for writing-related ventures gives weight and reality to my otherwise dreamy dreams.
On Writing, a Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
I am not a Stephen King fan. (Won’t he be crushed?) He’s talented alright, but his stories are just too scary for me. (Yes, I’m a ninny.) I enjoy this memoir because I think it’s fun to learn what makes other writers tick. And that brilliant Stephen, he’s got himself some ticks. I wouldn’t read On Writing for particulars on craft or technique, but more for inspiration and insight.
Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle
This is by far my favorite, favorite, favorite book on writing. (And just to be clear, Walking on Water is not a how-to book!) This book is filled with many of Madeleine’s favorite quotes (I have her to thank for introducing me to the Fra Giovanni quote I love), along with stories of her life and family, and faith, philosophy and the artistic process. Best of all, she opens her heart and reflects on writing for children and why it matters so much. I deeply admire Madeleine’s respect for children and the importance of giving them only our very best as writers.
This summer I intend to re-read all of these, even if my muse returns early from the Hamptons.
How about you? What are your favorite books on the craft of writing?
The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.~ John Steinbeck