These are not typical book reviews as such, maybe more of book summaries? but lately I’ve been trying to read some books about the writing life and I thought I’d offer some thoughts about three of them.
The first is one that often comes highly recommended: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (do you still underline book titles? Just go with me on this, okay?). This is a look into why we write, what to write and how to write. She is one crazy lady, painfully honest about the times when she is full of self-doubt and hypochondria. There are times when that wears a little thin in this book, but overall I think it is a good primer on being brave and writing honestly, and how to approach the blank page without listening to the internal censor we all have. One freebie I’ll tell you about her tactic of viewing a story through a one-inch picture frame — describe that one inch the best you can and don’t worry about all the other details of where it will lead you. She also offers sincere advice about the life of a published author, and that it cannot fulfill a person if she wasn’t fulfilled before she was published. Wise words to an anxious audience, many of whom hold publication as their primary goal, no matter what the cost.
The next book I’ve found referenced frequently is On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Yes, that Steven King. I’m not a big science fiction/ horror/ suspense reader, but he is such a household name and has published so many books, that one must allow that he knows what he’s doing. He is a fan of some certain crass words throughout his writing (and Anne Lamott doesn’t hesitate to drop quite a few bombs in her work either), but when you move past that, his book is chockabrock full of insights and encouragement. The first portion of the book is a short memoir, the main section is about the process of writing, and the third is written after he had a terrible accident and came back to writing five weeks after being hit by a minivan (he was not in a car, by the way, when he was hit by the minivan). I marked up this book more than Anne Lamott’s and will definitely come back to it along the way as I try to keep plugging away at my own writing. (Doesn’t “my own writing” sound official? It’s so very not official! But I’m having fun, at any rate.)
The third book I found worthwhile was The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. She is an editor and author, and this books walks through the entire process of being published, from the rejection letters to the release date and promotion tour. It reveals answers to the many mysteries surrounding the steps of publication, things that are a bit tricky to find if you don’t know exactly what you ought to be asking — she even describes the way book jackets are chosen. She is sympathetic to writers and reminds them that editors aren’t trying to be jerks by sending them rejection letters or taking a long time to get back to them. I found her book very interesting, even from a reader’s position, since I’ve always wondered how some books get such lame covers that seem to have nothing to do with the contents of the book inside.
None of these, I’m afraid, are holiday reading. But if you’re tired of the ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas’ and want something outside the current season, I think any one of these could be a good distraction. And if you’ve never thought about writing, they may even motivate you to give it a try, even just as an exercise in the possible. Best of luck, and I’d love to hear what books have spurred you to action over the years.