I’m big on inspiration. I believe most writers are unless, of course, you write plumbing manuals, and then you still need a smidgen of inspiration to keep your readers awake through a paragraph. I once belonged to a writers group whose conscience was that authors shouldn’t read other people’s work lest it influences their own writing… The active word here is that I ONCE belonged to that group. After all, could you imagine a Professional Basketball player who never watched any basketball games other than his own?
The group leader was a published author, and fairly good. I read his book–that’ll teach him…
Like I said, I was once a part of that group, and since then I have participated in a group moderated by a nurse in the cancer center I went too. It was based on the idea that writing could be a healing art. Tremendous. I met some great influences, was inspired, and learned a great deal along the way. My most notable connection was a man who had a degree in Spanish Literature which he told me he was still trying to find a use for—the degree not the literature. He turned me on to one of the better authors I’ve ever read, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a famous author and Pulitzer Prize Winner.
Some like data. Some like facts. I’m an inspiration junkie.
A person with an insatiable craving for something.
Like the gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, only one was of the mystic variety. Whenever he mentioned himself, he used the disciple that Jesus loved to describe himself and his relationship with Christ. Not that he was loved more, but that was his frame of reference. He loved inspiration, and in my arrogance, I think everyone else should too.
So, without any more of my drivel, here are the most inspirational books on writing I have read up to date.
I’ve listed them in order of their impact and influence on me personally. I hope it’s helpful.
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle
As writers, painters, musicians we desperately need what MS. L’Engle has to say.
Madeleine L’Engle was an American writer best known for young-adult fiction, particularly the Newbery Medal-winning, A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels.
I have read her YA novels; they are tremendously great reads for anyone, but it was this book I read first. Shared with me by an artist friend, it was chock full of mind-altering, paradigm–bending inspiration. The magnitude of what she was saying had to be taken in small bites, and chewed slowly to let it digest properly; it took me six months to finish reading this small paperback.
Walking on Water altered my thinking on the entire creative process.
We as artists, authors, or… can create anything–there are no limits–we can walk on water.
From AMAZON: Through L’Engle’s beautiful and insightful essay, readers will find themselves called to what the author views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one’s own art.
The next two are a toss up for second place- so I’ll give deference to my hero, the best storyteller on the planet… Stephen King
On Writing: a memoir of the craft by Stephen King
Part autobiography and part inspiration, ‘On Writing’ has many reflections on his own personal tragedy. It quietly bursts with tips on the mechanics of writing and lots of good simple advice. He wrote this book while recovering from nearly being killed when a motorhome ran him down as he was out for a walk.
From WIKIPEDIA: The first section of On Writing is an autobiography, mainly about King’s early exposure to writing and his first attempts at it. King talks about his early attempts to get published, and his first novel Carrie. King also talks about his fame as a writer, and what it took to get there. This section includes his relationship with his wife, the death of his mother and his history of drug and alcohol abuse.
The second section is also autobiographical, in which King discusses the 1999 accident in which he was struck by a vehicle while walking down an isolated country road. He describes the injuries he suffered, his painful recovery and his struggle to start writing again.
WHAT I TOOK FROM ‘On Writing’:
Stephen King’s definition of when you can actually call yourself a [talented] writer. I Win. Goodreads Records it as:
“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check and if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce. If you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” I remember it saying, “then you can call yourself a writer.”
Somehow King manages to read 60-75 books a year and still produce more than one epic book every year. AMAZING!!! But, if I lived in a big house on a lake and wrote for my sustenance, perhaps I could too. Still Inspiring.
Nuts and bolts: After you have finished what you think is the final draft of your book or story, get out the scalpel and shorten your book by 10%. There is at least that much worthless stuff. Personally, I have a hard time NOT making it longer, but ever since I read King’s book, his voice rings in my ear as I take a hatchet to my precious prose.
The line that rings in my ear comes to me quoted by Stephen King‘s literary hero, Richard Matheson: “Kill your darlings.” Literary hopefuls are told to learn that maxim.
More simply stated, take a merciless hatchet to your most darling and self-indulgent verses for the greater benefit of your work.
There’s a lot more to On Writing, but it’s much less tangible and shows up when needed.
Tied for Third Place:
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott is certainly hard to pigeonhole into a class or category. If you’ve never treated yourself to her raw style, do yourself the favor and find any one of her many books. I think what does it for me mostly is her transparentness. She is very candid about her own failures and struggles with life. I’m a whole-hearted subscriber to the idea that a rough life makes great writing.
“If you don’t die of thirst, there are blessings in the desert. You can be pulled into limitlessness, which we all yearn for, or you can do the beauty of minutiae, the scrimshaw of tiny and precise. The sky is your ocean, and the crystal silence will uplift you like great gospel music, or Neil Young.” -Anne Lamott
Excerpt from Google Books
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by Bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”
“A gift to all of us mortals who write or ever wanted to write… sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise and alternately cranky and kind — a reveille to get off our duffs and start writing “now,” while we still can.” — “Seattle Times.”
The following description from Wikia is what endears me to Anne Lamott, the author and narrator of the Bird by Bird.
A former drug addict and alcoholic, Lamott has become an author, teacher, mother, and devout Christian. She is heavily influenced by her author father’s bohemian lifestyle. She believes that writing can help create community and lead to personal satisfaction. She also believes that writers are an integral part of society and must have a moral perspective.
Remember, the main point of this piece is to share the books on writing that inspired me… There are many fine books on grammar and style, but inspiration is an elusive beast and frame of mind is everything to a writer.
Zen in the Art of Writing:
Releasing the Creative Genius Within You by Ray Bradbury
Before I knew I was a writer, Bradbury’s stories were working insidiously to turn me into one, and before I was a teenager, his Illustrated Man carved its deep mark in my soul. I still make it a point to reread some of his books every year. His short stories are my favorite, and I suppose that has some connection for me to my writing as I love penning a short story or a long short in my case.
As it says in the title, there is a Zen to writing, and as all these authors I’ve listed have said in their own way, If you write to be rich and famous quit now.
“I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.” ― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
Most memorable in this book was how he fed dimes to coin-operated typewriters in the basement of the LA public library writing and submitted stories not only out of ZEN but because he had to eat. It drove him to improve and hone his craft. That form of Zen was inspirational in that his only formal education was high school.
The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch
“The cat sat on the mat’ is not the beginning of a story, but ‘the cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is.”
—John Le Carré
At the time I didn’t even know who JohnLe Carré was, but it caused me to search and opened another treasury of incredible reading.
I was a raving fan of Kurt Vonnegut since my teen years and I’m sure it was his blurb that caused me to pick this from the countless books on writing:
“Make [your] characters want something right away—even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.”—Kurt Vonnegut
So there you have it. That’s my list. Be inspired. Keep writing.