Inspirational Writing Books

We are less than halfway through the month of November and that mean less than the halfway mark for NaNoWriMo. Yes, Thanksgiving no longer dominates this month. Many of my wrimos have asked me for advice on writing books. I have read dozens... literally. So I went through my annotated bibliography and will start uploading my reviews. This is just my personal opinion so don’t whine if you don’t agree with my assessments. Try a few and if we have similar tastes... or the exact opposite... then this list should help you. Today’s list will include writing books that have inspired me (or not but sit in that classification). Over the next few weeks, I’ll add my reviews on books in the following categories: Writer’s Life, Keeping a Notebook, Editing, The Craft of Writing and Genre Specific Books. I have already written a review of Jeff Vandermeer’s book on the business of writing here. ENJOY!

Inspirational Books on Writing

Chris Baty

  • No Plot? No Problem! (2004) You are not a true wrimo if you haven’t read this. This is the NaNoWriMo handbook.

Rachel Ballon

  • The Writer’s Portable Therapist (2007) Looks at common problems and suggests how to address them. Has clinical patients as examples (all writers). Nano does it better and more efficiently but it is the same advice. (Good for people who like to hear stories of other people facing the same issue.)

Ray Bradbury

  • Zen and the Art of Writing (1990) A classic must read. This is a collection of essays on writing. Even if you aren’t an SF aficionado, his essays are interesting and inspirational. You will envy his dedication and drive.

Dorthea Brande

  • Becoming a Writer (1934) A classic must read. She was way ahead of her time and has great advice that still rings true. Cameron probably got some of her ideas from this book.

Julia Cameron

  • The Artist’s Way (1992) Set up like a 15-week class with exercises and words of wisdom. A classic that everyone who secretly wants to make art, music or write books should read.
  • The Vein of Gold (1997) The second in the series and maybe even better but it assumes you read the first book, which isn’t really required. This book stands well on its own. Again, set up like a course with exercises and lots of support for the failing spirit.
  • Supplies (2003) Small paperback with mini-essays and activities targeting the types of people and personal tendencies that will sabotage your creative work. Rude at times and funny. Targeting those who are getting some success and don’t quite know what to do with it.
  • Walking in the World (2002) A repeat of the first two books. OK if you are a Cameron fan but a repeat and not a necessary buy.
  • The Sound of Paper (2004) Targeting those who have started their artist’s life and whose spirit is flagging and are in need of some support, encouragement, etc. Worth the read if you have Artist’s Way or Vein of Gold. Somewhat derivative of previous work. Suffers from redundancies.
  • Finding Water (2006) This one is self-indulgent and targets those falling off the wagon quite literally. She beats you to death with 12-step metaphors. Tends to be redundant but could be useful for those in a depression. If you aren’t depressed and are currently doing well on your “Artist’s Way” then just keep walking past this one. If you have floundered, this is the one to pick-up.

Ralph Keyes

  • The Courage to Write (1995) Examines all the different types of fears writers succumb to and gives examples of famous authors who lived to tell the tale. Some personal anecdotes and ideas on how to overcome all the various fears. Mostly just evaluations and examples of famous people who have already been there and done that. The idea is so that the new writer doesn’t feel so alone.
  • The Writer’s Book of Hope (2003) Begins where Courage left off. The point is to provide hope and tips on how to survive rejection and continue on. Lots of anecdotes on the nasty time even famous writers have had getting published at first. It is supposed to make you feel better about the process but it sort of depresses you at the same time! Ack! Still a good thing to buy and read. Especially good if you don’t have a support team yet and need to develop one.

Barbara Sher

  • Wishcraft: How to get what you really want (1979) This is in a slightly different class with a slightly different bent. Sher helps the reader figure out what they secretly want to do (i.e. write or what have you) and then she gives very practical advice on how to get from here to there. She has several other titles like Live the Life You Love, etc., which are riffs on this book. If you are a Sher fan, then the other books are worth the money. This is the one that started it. Definitely worth the read.

Kate Wilhelm

  • Storyteller (2005) This is partially a memoir, partially a history of the Clarion Workshop and partially a guide on how to write. The book is an inspiration and has made me envious that I have never been to such a workshop. Her advice is summarized in “Beyond the Five W’s” chapter and is very good. After reading this book, if you don’t seriously consider robbing a train or knocking off a liquor store to obtain the tuition money for a Clarion workshop, then you don’t really want to be a writer and should stop reading these types of books.

Jane Yolen

  • Take Joy (2006) The first part of the book is dedicated to finding the joy that is writing. There is precious little of that in the modern publishing world. She contends that it is not writing that makes writers miserable but rather the emphasis on publishing. (Duh!) However, up to and including chapter 6, the point is to help you find that joy again. Then... the book becomes derivative and boring. The second half is rehashed general writing book pabulum on POV etc. It’s as if she had a novella and on direction of a bad editor stretched it to a novel. The back half doesn’t match the first half. The first half is very good but the second is not only off topic from the title, it’s just not up to Yolen’s standard.