Inspired by who knows what, I emptied the bookshelves and piled my books on the floor. A quick calculation revealed the scale of the challenge: a thousand books – more or less — to be sorted into two categories: keep or give away.
And so, I’ve been shedding books, filling boxes for the charity shop. And because we’re such a good team, my husband has been emptying those boxes and piling the books beside our bed ‘to read later’.
The project has had one unexpected benefit. The lovely Ellen, who blogs at Always the Garden, asked me to recommend some books for writers, a request easier to accede to now that my writing books (at least, the ones that survived the cull) are gathered together on one shelf.
Of course, recommending books is dangerous. I’m bound to have offended someone. But for what it’s worth, here are ten writing books I’ve found helpful over the years.
(A word of warning: as useful as these books are, reading them is no substitute for writing. Believe me. I’ve tried.)
Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Lamott is funny, and her self-deprecating wit is hugely entertaining. But she’s also honest and insightful. This is the first book I turn to whenever I lose faith in writing.
Writing down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
Goldberg draws on the practices of Zen meditation to encourage careful observation and attention to detail. Short, stand-alone chapters are beautifully written. Still inspiring writers, almost thirty years after its publication.
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
Writers have been doubting themselves for a long time. Ueland’s book, first published in 1938, is an exhortation to write anyway.
Crafting the Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Nonfiction, by Dinty W. Moore
A genial introduction to the basics of essay writing. Great place to start if you’re just beginning to write nonfiction.
The Portable MFA in Creative Writing by New York Writers Workshop
Good technical guide. Chapters devoted to fiction, poetry, magazine writing, and personal essay and memoir. Practical advice on structure and craft.
Several Short Sentences about Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg
Brief insights that add up to a compelling writing philosophy. Here’s a typical excerpt: “Your job as a writer is making sentences. Your other jobs include fixing sentences, killing sentences, and arranging sentences.”
Tell it Slant, Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
Short and useful. A simple guide to several forms of Creative Nonfiction, including lyric essays and braided essays. I come back to this whenever I need inspiration.
Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction, edited by Dinty W. Moore.
Short essays by writers, editors, and teachers exploring the flash essay form. Includes exercises and examples.
The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser.
Gentle discussion of poetry for beginning poets and readers of poetry. Warm and conversational in tone.
The Making of a Poem, edited by Mark Strand and Evan Boland.
Clear definitions and wide-ranging examples of poetic forms, including the pesky villanelle. Lovely introductory essay On Becoming a Poet by the late Mark Strand.