Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Instructing and Inspiring the Writer

Last Spring, when I decided to further explore that little urge to write, I began to read and study books on writing. One philosophy is that if you read enough books on writing, you don't actually have to write, but I don't think that's my fixation. I find these books fascinating, probably for the same reason I love memoir: someone is sharing a passion with me from their point of view. Many deal with the author's specific call to write or how she "made it," and all deal with the work of writing, while most also contain some writing exercises which are designed to help train your brain to create. If you need some inspiration that you can write, that you indeed to have something to say, then many of these books will help you. If you want nuts and bolts help about how to actually unlock the store of ideas within you and let them out, some of these books will meet that expectation. If you want practical advice about breaking into the publishing world, you will find a bit of that as well.

Creative Call: An Artist's Response to the Way of the Spirit by Janice Elsheimer is written from a Christian perspective. She writes under the presupposition that all creative talent is a gift from God. This book also works under the theory that you may have buried your creative talent, or let it die, and you need encouragement to find it again. If you fully acknowledge your talent and it's always been something you practiced, you might not need this book. However, if it's something you've recently rediscovered, as it was when I read it last Spring, it will serve as a needed confirmation that this is part of who you are. This is produced in a journal format, where there are questions at the end of each chapter and space to write them in the book. One other unique feature is that it is not a writing book per se, but a book on unlocking creativity, which could include artistic talent, music, or even cooking or gardening. She maintains that each of us has a creative side and we owe it to ourselves and to our creator to find out what it is.

Pen on Fire: Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett is the second book on writing that I devoured. I read through this quickly, as it was on loan from the library and my due date snuck up on me, but also because once I started, I could not put it down. It was a good balance of inspiration, good advice, and wonderful tips (on when to write, where to write) and writing exercises.

I think I took a small break from reading about writing, and just wrote. Then I wanted some practical advice and checked out Writing Articles from the Heart by Marjorie Holmes. I had seen this recommended on a writing blog somewhere, but the reviews from amazon were less than stellar, so I was unsure. A friend told me that it was actually quite practical and informative, and she was correct. I loved this book. Marjorie Holmes made a living by freelancing articles for women. She first writes about different styles of writing that most magazines buy, and then goes into developing your ideas, pitching one idea several different ways to get more use out of it, and a bit of advice as far as selling your articles.

Escaping Into the Open by novelist Elizabeth Berg was another book I could not put down. I began reading it one Friday night and had read 100 pages by the next day. The writing exercises seem really good, but I could not slow down from reading her words to actually stop and do them. This book is part memoir, about her journey as a writer, and part advice, like something you would get from a good friend, and part expertise, since she has sold a lot of books. She started off writing magazine articles and then began writing fiction, so this is a good blend of both techniques. However, I think that what pulled me in is that she seems to so accurately portray the pull that writing can have on a person. The subtitle is The Art of Writing True, and her writing is indeed true, as it kept striking chord after chord within me.

As in most of the other books listed, Heather Sellers gives us a bit of her personal journey in Page After Page (which also has an apt, if long subtitle: Discover the confidence and passion you need to start writing and keep writing). She paints the picture of writing as work--a work that some feel that they must do, but something which is work nonetheless. Part I deals with creating a new writing self, Part II is how to maintain your commitment to writing, and Part III is finding your place in the world of writing. I must tell you that after reading it, I may have to take back my thoughts that I shared in this post on the writing hobby. I'm not sure that writing can be a hobby. You either write or you don't. She says that many people are indeed writers, but they do not write, for a variety of reasons. After reading just half of this book, you will be left with a clear thought. Either, "Yes, I want to write. I know it's hard, but it's who I am, and I am willing to make the effort," or perhaps it will be, "I love the idea of writing, but I'm not sure I am ready to commit fully to writing. I'll keep reading wonderful writers and maybe I'll write later." She states the mission of the book (on page 65): "to help you clarify for yourself what you want, how you want to be in your life, what you want to spend your time thinking about and making and writing or not writing." This book is also chock-full not only of writing exercises but practical steps you should take to get yourself from having the desire to write to actually writing, page after page.

I think if I had to recommend one book, it would be Page after Page, because I think it has a wonderful sampling of each of the elements that I am looking for when I read a book on writing (which I listed above). For some reason, even though the writing is compelling, I have actually stopped and done many of the writing exercises as I go. However, just as each writer has different goals and a different style, so does each of these authors, so don't take my word for it. Click on the links or the pictures and read the reviews on amazon.

Another thing that has really been helpful for me is having a real, live friend who has done the work that it takes to get published. Katrina at Callapidder Days wrote a bit about her journey into freelancing today. So, if you'd prefer to read someone who actually knows what she's talking about, click on over.

Have there been any writing books that you have loved and would recommend?


Jennifer said...

It's hard to leave comments when the blogger unintentionally turns them off, eh?

This comment is from L.L. Barkat, which she posted on my post from yesterday, trying desperately to answer my question:

One of my favorite writing books is The Soul Tells a Story. I am actually rereading it, which says something. I rarely reread anything! (In fact, I often give up on books the first time around if they don't totally pull me in.)

Mitali Perkins said...

And there's always Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott's now classic book on writing. Have you read it?

Heather said...

Great list! Thanks for the recs!

Overwhelmed! said...

Thanks for the book recommendations. I'll have to check for these at our library!

We used to belong to a small writing group at Barnes & Noble and then we moved. I need to find another writing group again...and a baby sitter.

Dianne said...

Great list; I will have to check these out. I've enjoyed Marjorie Holmes' fiction in the past, so her book especially interests me. Thanks for the recommendation.

Kelly said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Jennifer. I have Page After page on my Amazon wish list, and Elizabeth Berg is a favorite. Might just have to place an order.

Jennifer said...

Overwhelmed--I think that everything I would like to do should be followed by, "and a babysitter." That gave me a chuckle.

Mitali--Yes, I did read Bird by Bird, and enjoyed it as well, although it wasn't one of the ones that just grabbed me like these did.