Ever feel like you’re speaking in tongues when you talk about writing? I know I do. Which is why it’s so completely wonderful to run across a fellow traveler who speaks my language. Better still, a companion who has been here and done this and lived to tell about it. Best yet, someone with morsels to offer.
Because like Audrey, Jr., in The Little Shop of Horrors, I’m always ready to be fed. (In the purely metaphorical sense, of course. I draw a firm line at cannibalism.) So, thanking God for writers who have taken the time to light the way for the rest of us, I take pen in hand (still working the metaphors) to share the feast. I highly recommend the following books, my top three so far, presented here in no particular order. Trust me when I say they’ll nourish your writer’s soul.
The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard
The line of words is a hammer. You hammer against the walls of your house. You tap the walls, lightly, everywhere. After giving many years’ attention to these things, you know what to listen for. Some of the walls are bearing walls; they have to stay, or everything will fall down. Other walls can go with impunity; you can hear the difference. Unfortunately, it is often a bearing wall that has to go. It cannot be helped. There is only one solution. Knock it out. Duck.
Annie Dillard comes at you head-on. She’ll inspire you, delight you, take your breath away. She’ll draw a line in the sand and dare you to step across: “Are you a woman, or a mouse?”
One moment, Annie takes us soaring, lifting us to that place where writing is a noble calling, high art. The next, she drops us to earth with a thud, reminding us writers aren’t as useful to most people as the guy who sells shoes.
How many times while reading TWL did I whine, “On my best day, I couldn’t write like this?” How many times did she help me realize I’m not supposed to? We each write what we’re given. But we give the writing all we’ve got.
Caveat: This book reminds me of an impressionist painting. So don’t expect pragmatic how-tos. Expect wings.
Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
Only this: If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is—excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigor, he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it’d be better for his health.
Reading Bradbury’s book is like sticking your finger in a light socket … but in a good way.
He laughs at his (and our) foibles, then grabs us by the hand and drags us to green pastures at a dead run. Gives us the wide world and our own lives as raw material, and shows us how to make it work. His childlike delight in scaring the wits out of himself and anyone who dares to read his stories and/or books is both endearing and infectious.
His delight in the process leaves me breathless. This book is Red Bull for run-down days.
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
But I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.
How many books offer up gems like the above and make you laugh out loud and hand out choice tips on writing? I mean, seriously. I’m only halfway through BBB, and it’s already one of my top three go-to refreshers.
Anne teaches writing and takes a teacher’s approach … provided the teacher in question can enchant you from the get-go.
So your first draft was garbage? According to Anne, it’s supposed to be. Don’t even know where to start looking for inspiration? She can help you out with that. Plagued by perfectionism? Don’t be.
And that’s just in Part One. I can’t wait to get to Part Two: The Writing Frame of Mind, a section that includes an intriguingly titled subsection called, “Broccoli.”
So there you have them … my cool oases, my gardens of delights. I would love to hear what you read to feed. Please let me know. Meanwhile, happy writing.