My most requested post on ye olde blog is book recommendations, quickly followed by posts on writing. I have so many books on writing (and books not about writing per se, but that get me writing) so I began today in the living room with a huge pile -- which I kindly whittled down to a more digestible 5 today. Here's Edition 1 -- with more to come.
If, like me, you have anxiety, your writer's block is likely a mean breed that stems not from having nothing to write about...but too much. Too many stories with too many potential forms and shapes. I give you Anne Lamott. The title comes from an early anecdote when Lamott's brother must write a veritable tome of a school report on birds and feels overwhelmed by the task. Her father says to take it instead, "bird by bird" -- and the metaphor persists in the book. In Lamott's way, it's funny, tender, and relatable -- something I think young writers often need even more than guidance -- but also useful and something you can use to make assignments. This is the first book on my imaginary reading list if I taught Creative Writing 101. IF YOU WRITE, this is a must.
Oh, Elizabeth! This book is spectacular all around, and especially good if your barriers to writing are anxiety, perfectionism, people pleasing. I feel like when I read her words, I'm back having coffee in office hours with my beloved writing professors -- her thoughts just have a certain gravity and intentionality to them, and you leave feeling light. If you struggle with treating your work with so much sacredness that you miss being vulnerable, creative, and free...ding, ding, ding, this is for you!
These books (this is one in a series) are flat-out fun. They're collections of prompts with writing space (if the thought of making them a mess with inky pens makes you ill, you can do as I do and write in a second notebook or type). While I don't struggle to think of writing topics/devices...I do struggle with making decisions and just going for it. Every. Single. Day. So, these are great opening exercises for me because they remove the first big decision of the day -- after which, the writing comes easier. Let's say the prompt is "A blind man who is obsessed with buttons." I can allow myself the directionless indulgence of writing about this for awhile, and often, it will turn into something else -- maybe the just-right image I was missing for another story.
Paola was my writing professor in college, and this was the first textbook I read about writing. This is a magnificent place to begin if you're just starting out, or had no formal training (and wish you had), or if you're needing to revisit those now-past writing course days. "Tell It Slant" guides you through that mucky, wonderful terrain of creative nonfiction by helping you rethink the shape of tories. Are you using the 5 senses of memory to tell this story? What if you made this story into the shape of a hermit crab? If not for this book, I wouldn't have turned some of my near-moribund pieces into lyric essays or braided essays -- a transition that saved them.
From this book came my oft-quoted line, "writing is not a performance, but an act of generosity." What I love about this book is that it's chock full of pointed and necessary emotional encouragement. It really validates the idea that anyone could write, that were 'll full of stories worth sharing. Are there more nuanced and refined forms of expression? Yes. Do all people write with intention and elegance from the start? No. But, these are the things you are setting out to learn. Sometimes those thoughts must be set aside momentarily so one can, simply, write.