Writing Books Part 2

Here is my next installment on the writing books I have read. Note that if the book is so hideous I wanted to sue to get my money back, I will not list it here. I don’t want to give the perpetrator any publicity at all. Obviously, if you favorite book isn’t listed, I might not have read it yet. Go to my contact page and leave me a suggestion if you know of a good book. This installment deals with books that are on the life of a writer. These could and do cross over to the inspirational side as well.

Books on the Writing Life

Terry Brooks

  • Lessons from a Writing Life (2005) This book is very similar to Stephen King’s and Anne Lamott’s and, in fact, quotes both. I found it very easy to read, good info and some great illustrative autobiographical vignettes. It contains a slightly different perspective on publishing and includes lots of praise for his mentors at Del Rey. I found it personally interesting because he was a lawyer and went through what I am going through now. The day job just doesn’t cut it anymore no matter how professional or tenured you are.

John Gardner

  • On Becoming a Novelist (1983) A series of essays on being a writer and living the life (you never will be able to quit your day job unless you marry well). Critics have said it is often too negative but I didn’t find that. Sometimes the style is a bit stilted, a bit professorial, but basically he just tells it like it is. You will be broke, it is tough to get published, you won’t get famous but if you are writing for these reasons you really aren’t a writer. You write because you have no choice. I agree.

Natalie Goldberg

  • Writing Down the Bones (1986) A series of essays on being a writer and living the life (you never will be able to quit your day job unless you marry well-- have you noticed a pattern yet?). Inspirational with some good advice tossed in. Very good choice for people who are interested in Buddhism as she incorporates that philosophy into the book.
  • Wild Mind Living the Writer’s Life (1990) A series of essays and activities associated with living the life. Inspirational and an excellent continuation of Writing Down the Bones. Might even be better.
  • Long Quiet Highway (1993) A memoir about her childhood, her teacher Roshi and how she came to love and respect him so much with little about writing. However, as she sees writing as her practice of Zen, there is some about writing. If it is writing you are after, stick to Bones and Wild Mind. If you are interested in her life and Zen, read this.
  • Thunder and Lightning (2001) This writer’s book is more structured and as a few really good writing prompts she has done with some of her writing classes. Still very Zen... as writing is her practice... and more about moving from writing practice to writing for an audience, or taking the next step.

Stephen King

  • On Writing (2000) A memoir on his life and the craft of writing with a sample chapter edited to see what a first draft looks like to the second draft. Great book because Stephen King’s life is interesting on its own and because he really does understand the needs and fears of writers. He quotes Ray Bradbury’s Zen, which made me like his advice even better.

Anne Lamott

  • Bird by Bird (1994) The book is advice and general essays on the writing life. She has sections on writing itself, writing frame of mind, getting help and publication but this last section is from the philosophical point of view. Funny and poignant. Good read. Makes you feel like you want and can become a writer.

Betsy Lerner

  • The Forest for the Trees (2000) Written by an editor turned agent, the first part deals with who writers are and what they want and the second with who editors and agents are and what they want. It explains the process and tends to fall on the side of stereotypes but is still informative. Worth reading.

Brenda Ueland

  • If You Want To Write (1938) The book contains advice in the form of general essays on the writing life. The book is similar to Dorthea Brande’s Becoming a Writer (1934). Brande’s book is more inspirational. This books makes lots of literary references and the author is a devotee of Blake, Thoreau, Chekhov and the letters by Van Gogh on the artist’s life as applied to writing. Her example of how to write an assigned paper was illustrative and her summary of advice starting on page 161 is useful. Her life is interesting to me but the Brande book was more my style for inspiration.