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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Writer Wednesday: 6 Books to Boost Your Creativity

It's a trick writers are fond of: Read a lot about writing and it will almost seem like you're working. You're "honing your craft." You're "learning from the masters." Substitute your own favorite trope. Whatever you call it, there are in fact some great books out there to help you do your writing job. Read them in small doses, as morning inspiration or as a reward for a good day's work. These are my own favorites:

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013)
Is it unfair to choose the book I'm just now reading as a favorite? I don't care, because Shapiro's lyrical, calm essays--part writing-life memoir, part writerly advice--are just so good. In her quiet way, she reminds us what good writing should look like and sound like. It's a joy to hold this small, perfectly designed volume, to read the essays which are just the right length for a prewriting dose of sanity.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (Scribner, 2000)
King's collection of essays is also part memoir, but it's told in a more linear fashion. The first section is a "here is my life" report, followed by the second part, which tells you what works for King as a writer. In typical SK fashion, he doesn't pull punches. "I like to get in your face," he said recently at a Q&A session at University of Massachusetts-Lowell. He's not shy about the struggles he's overcome, nor about his rules for writing. You won't follow all of them--nor should you--but they're great to have and to try. And, you know, I guess they worked out all right for him.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (Writer's Digest Books, 2001)
Lit agent and author Donald Maass writes a wonderful nuts-and-bolts guide to taking your writing to the next level, whether you're a beginner or a midlist author trying to make it big. These aren't inspiring essays; these are outright instructions. He'll have you look at each element of your book--premise, setting, characters, the all-important stakes--and help you see where you're falling short. It's the clearest guide I know to making your book better. He doesn't include writing exercises here, but if that's your thing, the companion Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook is ideal.

The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron (Tarcher, 1992)
I can hardly believe that this book is more than 20 years old. For a long time, it was my lifeboat in a sea of creative doubt. Don't be put off by the word spiritual; this isn't a preachy book. The spirit Cameron talks about is your inner spirit, the spirit of the artist. If you feel lost, can't get your mojo back, or are wondering where the heck people even find creative mojo, this is the book for you. Through a series of gentle exercises and essays, Julia makes even the toughest creative road navigable. I learned many lessons at her side, but the greatest of these was the practice of morning pages--writing every day, on any old topic--and artist dates, which gave me permission to get out of the office and soak up life and inspiration. She's written three books in the Artist's Way series, all of which I've read, as well as her Right to Write and The Sound of Paper, but this book started it all.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (Anchor, 1994)
Shapiro's book is often compared to Bird by Bird, I suppose because both are a mixture of writing wisdom and memoir. But both are worth your time. Lamott's voice is distinct, irreverent, marvelous. Not a grain of self-pity comes through the narrative of her struggles, and you'll come out of them thinking, If she can write after that, surely I can. Writing is putting one word after another, then one sentence after another, until finally you're stringing together paragraphs and chapters. Anne Lamott will help you get there.

Zen in the Art of Writing Releasing the Creative Genius Within You by Ray Bradbury (Bantam, 1987)
Few writers can claim the success of Ray Bradbury, who wrote dozens of stories and novels through his long and wonderfully creative lifetime. In this short guide he shares some of his best secrets. I love how he takes the mystery out of fiction writing; do more of it, and you'll get better. Sit around and wonder if you might get better isn't going to work. Bradbury's always kind and funny voice comes through loud and clear like an old pal's. Trust me, you could make worse friends.


  1. I read a post recently in which the poster said she read a craft book every month. I admire that. I MEAN to read a whole lot more craft books, but don't get around to many of them. I do love Bird by Bird and On Writing, and have Donald Maas's book, but haven't read most of it yet. I will put the others on my never-ending TBR list. Thanks for telling me about these. The email subscription seems to be working fine. 8-)

    1. Yay! I'm glad it's working, Rosi. At one time I had a huge collection of craft books. I do go back and reread my favorites, but in small doses. I Tweeted to Dani Shapiro that reading her book is like having coffee every morning with an inspirational writer friend. :)