Today’s guest post is by freelance writer Nicolette Morrison:
One of the “rules” often touted is that writers must always spend hours reading. It helps in improving comprehension and grammar, but most importantly it guides them to find their footing as writers.
Reading can give you an idea of what you like and what you don’t in a piece of writing. It’s about taking every bit of the things you like in a creative piece and trying to incorporate them into your own voice. It’s about widening your range of influences and learning what works for your style of writing.
Though writers are free to read whatever book comes to mind, there are some works that every writer needs to spend the time to read, digest, and apply. For people who have to work magic on a blank piece of paper (or a computer document for some), a word of motivation from some of the most prolific and successful authors can go a long way.
Below are nine books that can give any writer that necessary push to hold their pens mightier than ever.
- Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke. “This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?” The book is a compilation of ten letters to a young poet Rilke corresponded with during an important stage of his artistic exploration. Giving his non-condescending and genuine advice to the poet, Rilke imparted advice that many writers hold dear even years after they first read the book.
- How Fiction Works – James Wood. “Literature differs from life in that life is amorphously full of detail, and rarely directs us toward it, wheras literature teaches us to notice.” Written not just for writers but for readers as well, How Fiction Works gives a fresh take on the connection of real life and fiction. It also provides a good perspective on the creative writing process. Wood’s entertaining prose clearly shows his love for books—something any reader can appreciate.
- On Writing – Stephen King. “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” One of the most prolific writers of horror fiction shares his thoughts on the creative process and his experiences on the difficulties and triumphs in writing. He talks about writing in a frank and straightforward fashion. The book offers an imaginative memoir focusing on the life of someone devoted to fiction writing.
- Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury. “And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.” Readers will get lost in Bradbury’s tales and anecdotes that are written with vigor and passion. Though it’s not innovative, as some may claim, it can still take you on a spin inside the mind of the one of the greatest American writers.
- The Elements of Style – William Strunk Jr. “When a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter. Thus, brevity is a by-product of vigor.” There’s no book that better shows an author following his own advice than this book. William Strunk Jr. dishes out some of the most timeless pieces of advice on writing. Keep it short, omit needless words, etc. Strunk practices what he preaches, and the fact that this book is in nearly every must-read list for writers shows that his work pays.
- The Writing Life – Annie Dillard. “He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, for that is what he will know.” Dillard pens an engaging and honest look at her relationship with writing. It opens the readers to the realities of a writer’s life. The book compiles Dillard’s essays explaining why, where, and how she writes. So far, she has published eleven books, each a gem of its own.
- Writing Down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg. “If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you.” Goldberg talks about writing, and the writing is in approachable fashion in this golden book. It doesn’t offer practical tips on how to make your writing work, but it’s a great motivation to writers who feel the need for some guidance in their careers.
- Why I Write – George Orwell. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” Orwell paints a not-so-desirable picture of the writing life, but underneath the grime and gore, he lets us see what makes it all worth it and why must one continue to hold the pen.
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott. “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.” From plot to dialogue to character to first drafts, Lamott inspires aspiring writers on her anecdotal lectures on writing. She’s one of the funniest writers around, and this book proves that she’s also one of the writers who gives the most practical and humble advice.
These books are not meant to be treated as writing bibles, as every one of them needs to be read with a critical and open mind. However, each one offers a refreshing take on writing, for every writer has different perspectives. Take a pick and you won’t regret it.
Nicolette Morrison is a freelance writer and social media manager for Bestessays.com. She’s currently working on her novel and hoping to finish her master’s degree by next year. You can read more of her musings on her blog Nicolette On Writing.