The blank page can be a fearful place. But let’s skip the chit-chat about the exasperating blinking of the cursor, the slight twitch of your fingers as they hover over the keyboard, and the sudden vacancy that envelopes your mind before the story unravels a whole world of possibilities before you.
Instead, let’s talk about what happens when you read a truly exhilarating book about writing—the chill that vibrates up your spine as the author’s words illuminate all the glorious and painful things about the process; the tears that build behind your eyes as you have the opportunity to conspire with a revered writer about what the craft actually means; and the vigor with which you return to your work while the author’s words still pulsate in the back of your mind.
Sometimes we just need a reminder of why putting proverbial (and actual) pen to paper is worth the tumultuous jumble of joy and anguish that so often wells up inside of us. And somehow, reading a writer wrangle the process into words can prove remarkably helpful. So ditch your writer’s block for a highlighter—we’ve rounded up five books about writing, written by bestselling authors, that will help you get back at it.
Letters to a Young Writer, Colum McCann
McCann’s little guidebook is chock-full of tiny, philosophical treasures that effortlessly skirt around the normal clichés (i.e. “write what you know”). Several chapters brought me to tears, purely because McCann performs the writer’s task, of putting the inexplicable into a consummate sentence, in such a gorgeous, gutting manner. I now want to read every, single word he’s ever written.
“Take pleasure in the recklessness of your own imagination.” – Colum McCann
Dani Shapiro talks about writing like a seductive, riddled lover. This tone seems appropriate, since the author actually wrote it while sprawled on a chaise lounge at her house in Connecticut. Shapiro uses silky, meandering language invites you to romanticize with the writing process. Have your tissues at the ready—this one will rip your heart open and demand that you write.
“We know because it shimmers. And if you are a writer, you will find that you won’t give up that shimmer for anything.” – Dani Shapiro
Scratch: Writers, Money and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin
Money can be a tricky topic for everyone—writer’s included. What does it really mean to get an advance? To find an agent? To write for free? Manjula Martin brought together an outstanding cast of wordsmith contemporaries to push these subjects into the light. Whether you read the book cover to cover, or flip through at random, you’re sure to gain a handful (or two) of financial tips.
“People wonder when you’re allowed to call yourself a writer. I think maybe the answer is when you recognize that is work.” – Nina MacLaughlin
On Writing, Stephen King
Who better to talk about writing the king of horror himself? Even if your stories don’t tend to include horrifying, imaginary friends, haunted video games, or sewer-loving clowns, King has some technical, tangible advice that you can apply to your own work. Once you’ve written 99+ books, you’re definitely at liberty to provide expertise on the subject.
“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.” -Stephen King
Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury
I’ve only read an excerpt of this book so far, but Bradbury had me laughing three pages into the introduction. Author of Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and 24 others, Bradbury approaches writing in a playful, curious way that will convince us to stop taking ourselves so goddam seriously—after all, it’s supposed to be fun, right?
“Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.” -Ray Bradbury
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