I have been reading quite a few books lately that I have not taken the time to review. Some of them have to do with Art and Impressionism (mostly as research for my story idea, but also for my own personal interest and education as well), and some of the books have to do with the craft of writing. I have kept a list of all the books I have read on my Master List, but I will not necessarily review them all on the blog. To the left you can see the collection of these writing books that I have brought home from the library over the past couple of weeks. Some of these books have to do with particular genres of writing, some have to do with writing fiction in general, and some have to do with the process of journal writing.
However, there are a couple of noteworthy books on writing that I personally own that I have been reading as well and would like to showcase in this post. One is, appropriately titled, On Writing by Stephen King and the other is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
I have yet to read a Stephen King novel or short story, mostly because I was misguided in my youth and I don’t think I had a proper perspective of his writing. I do plan to remedy that literary oversight sometime in the near future (perhaps Carl’s RIP challenge would be the perfect time and setting). However his modern day classic book On Writing was one that I thoroughly enjoyed. The book is an easy read and not at all dense, but what he has to say is worth hearing. The book is divided into three parts: the first part is a biographical sketch of his life and how writing has always been a part; the second part focuses on the craft and necessary tools of writing; and the last portion is a rather post-script describing his near-death accident and how writing was instrumental to his full recovery.
In essence I believe Mr. King’s book can be summarized in just a few short quotes:
- Every writer needs a toolbox and the essential tools include: vocabulary usage – grammar rules- little to no passive voice – few adverbs – Strunk and White’s writing style
- Every writer needs to read — a lot!! If a writer isn’t reading, then a writer is not honing his/her craft
- Every writer needs to write — a lot!! Sure writers can take classes and go to conferences and workshops, but if a writer wants to improve — a writer needs to write: PERIOD
Another modern-day classic for those who want to learn the craft of writing is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I had read this book last summer, but was drawn to read it again when Belle formed a Facebook Discussion Group this summer (it is definitely not too late to join if you have an interest). Now Ms. Lamott’s writing style is a bit unconventional to say the very least (for example, one of the most famous and worthwhile chapters in the book is called Sh*tty First Drafts — except she does not use the asterisk). She is funny — and knowledgeable and no-nonsense. I mean, she calls a spade a spade and she lets you know what a writer’s life is truly like (romantic — NO but if you are born to write there is nothing quite like it in the world).
This book is far more dense than that of Stephen King; I mean, nearly every chapter has numerous nuggets of information that are worth jotting down, reviewing, savoring, and re-reading again and again. Currently I am only about half-way through this intense reading of the book, but I will focus my attention on the two sections that spoke volumes to me – and which I commented on in the facebook discussion. I have just done a copy and paste here — hopefully no one minds:
- Perfectionism: “….if you want to write, you get to, but you probably won’t get very far if you don’t start trying to get over your perfectionism. You set out to tell a story of some sort, to tell the truth as you feel it, because something is calling you to do so.” I do feel called to do so. And I know that my fear of being imperfect (which is totally irrational because we are all imperfect) hinders my ability to take that one small baby step toward a dream – toward not settling for “this is as good as it’s going to get” and start living for “all the possibilities”
- Writers Observe: In the chapter called Looking Around AL (once again) reiterates that a writer is a keen observer of human nature. As someone who has spent the past two decades trying to do as much as I can in as little time as possible (the world calls that efficiency – I call it ludicrous!) my sense of observation (and awe) have atrophied. This summer my priority project is to try to slowly build these muscles back up.
In that chapter she writes (on page 101 in my version): “If you start to look around, you will start to see.” While this may seem like a very obvious statement, it is quite profound.
I immediately married this statement with my new-found interest in photography and discovered that the camera helps me to focus – to stop and look around — to see the hidden treasures of life’s mundane landscape. Much like AL describes in the chapter on Short Assignments, my 2.5 inch view finder on the digital camera is much like her 1 inch picture frame on the desk. It forces me to see the world from a different perspective; sometimes a more manageable perspective that is filled with awe and wonder — the way life is meant to be appreciated.