“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.” –Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life (1989)
One of my pals recently asked me if I had any recommendations for books on “craft.” Craft, I think, is one of those nebulous and slightly annoying writerly words, but I knew what she meant. She wanted to know if I had read anything good about the writing process, the tricks of the trade, the where-the-rubber-meets-the-road of it all (as if any of those clichés are less annoying than the word craft). I tend to think that reading knock-out books and writing every day are the most helpful learning tools, but I also enjoy reading what other writers have to say about their work. These four “writers on writing” books are the ones I shared with my crafty friend—even though they offer little in the area of technical writing approaches or strategies:
1. Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life (1989):
Of these four books, The Writing Life is the one I would recommend above the others. Dillard keeps her discussion of the writing process alive in this series of essays by drawing upon a rich stock of metaphors and owning up to her struggles. She emerges as a captivating (yet quirky) lady who somehow gets a lot of work done—between learning how to chop wood on a secluded island and watching her typewriter go up in flames. In a pinch, how does Dillard eek out those final few lines? “I drank coffee in titrated doses,” she says. I think we’d be friends.
2. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994):
More inspirational than practical how-to, Lamott’s Bird by Bird offers several nuggets of wisdom about the writing life, the most important perhaps the source of the book’s title. Lamott tells a story about her brother trying to complete a report on birds. Even though he had three months to write the report, he waited until the day before it was due and became immobilized by the immensity of the project. Lamott’s father comforted him by saying: “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
3. Joyce Carol Oates’ The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art (2003):
I read this book not because I am a big Joyce Carol Oates fan but because I think that if a woman can crank out a list of works longer than a roll of toilet paper and win a few Pulitzer Prizes, then she might be worth listening to. Even though I still think people that prolific must be mutants, Joyce Carol Oates came off as a near-human, saying things like: “Write your heart out. Never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for your subject.” Oh–and she admits that she takes breaks…running breaks!
4. Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (1980):
Of the books-are-meaningful camp, I found myself interested in L’Engle’s musings about how her writing process is wedded to her belief system. L’Engle both calls herself a “Christian artist” and shies away from the categorization. Inquiring into the meaning of the phrase “Christian art,” L’Engle most eloquently expresses the book’s premise that “Art is art; painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story. If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.”
Anyone out there have others books to share?? Writers on Writing? Craft? Knock-Out Books? The Process? If so, do leave a comment…
Upcoming: FREE BOOKS. Seriously. I’ve got to give some away. List to be posted shortly.