I admit it– I am a junkie. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right? What’s my drug of choice? Writing books.
Actually, I’m a devotee of any self help book, even ones that claim to solve problems I don’t have. Most recently, I read a book by the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. No, I am not an alcoholic. To be honest, I don’t drink nearly as much as I wish I did. A few margaritas during the summer and a little something extra in my egg nog at Christmas, and that’s about it. But the book was interesting and … Well, it was basically just there and I read it. There is no logic here. But writing books, those are my real addiction.
A few years ago, when I was right out of college, I read a few books on writing and thought I had to follow verbatim what they said to do. That was back when I really did think there were “rules” for writing. This would have been a huge disaster except that shortly thereafter, I had the good fortune to pick up the two best writing books ever published. They are:
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
And one can never leave out The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
If you never read any other writing books — and you’d be fine if you didn’t — read those. They were my gateway drugs, so to speak.
Before reading Lamott and King, I contorted my writing style to fit into Writer A’s box and woke up in a cold sweat because I hadn’t done what Writer B said was absolutely critical to publishing success. Those few years of feeling insecure about my talent and unworthy to call myself a writer were my rock bottom. I knew I had to go cold turkey, and I did. mostly. for a while.
I think I’ve evolved as a person and as a writer, and I’m better able to read a book, try some tips or methods, and discard them if they don’t work for me. As for reading writing books in general, yep, I still read them. A lot of them. I’ve come to view them like I view educational toys for my kids. There is no such thing as an educational toy. There is also no toy that my kids can’t learn from. Sometimes, I’ll read a book on writing and will disagree with or discard everything that books says, but most of the time, there will be one thing, one little thing, that I can take away from that book and use in my own process. And sometimes, that one thing is the very thing I needed to get my writing unstuck. In which case, that book was well worth the cost of falling off the wagon.
So, I’ll be sharing writing books here from time to time. Most of what I’m reading now is about how to write faster because my current WIP has been in the works for nine years. Yes, that is ridiculous. Other books have been partially written during that time, and I also had two kids, so it wasn’t like I was sitting around paralyzed by indecision over word choice or anything, but I am a genre writer. I like stories that have a beginning, middle, and an end and make me feel satisfied that my time was well spent. In order to make a decent living as a genre writer, I think output is key– thus the emphasis on writing faster.
So what about you? Want to share writing books, tips, or websites that you found helpful?