Seeking Inspiration: Favorite Writing Books

Monday, March 28, 2011
To be perfectly honest, this March has not been my month.

Remember back when I asked "Do I dare?" Apparently, I dare not because I still have 50,000 words to get tapped out by Thursday to make my goal of writing 50,000 words in the month of March. That's right my friends, I've written a grand total of 0 fiction words this month and unless I got paid to write it, I didn't and even those deadlines were dealt with capriciously. I guess a month that kicked off with a nasty bout of stomach flu about 20 minutes into March 1 and involved lengthy dealings with the auto insurance people (oh black ice, you are not my friend) wasn't destined to be my most inspired 31 days.

But enough about me. While I've gotten a lot of knitting done this month (more on that later this week!) that's not really moving me along towards becoming a self-employed freelance writer. What I need is a kick in the butt. While I try to assure beginning writers that they really don't need to immerse themselves in "how to write" books before actually pursuing a writing career (just get writing!), I do find inspiration and sometimes, answers to puzzling aspects of the lifestyle, in the pages of writing books. When I'm really having a "black dog" sort of writing day, thumbing through one of these tomes is usually enough to get me back on track. 

Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is, for me, the definitive writing book. I read this in high school when I was first contemplating throwing away all of my worthy career plans becoming a writer. Since then, I've been assigned the book in college and have come back to the pages multiple times on my own. Heartfelt advice with a healthy dose of humorous real life experience, Lamott tells it like it is and in the process makes us realize we're not alone in our struggle with the blank page. Definitely a book that I think deserves to be on every writer's bookshelf. Actually, it should be within arm's reach on every writer's desk. 

 I've only read Jane Yolen's Take Joy in its entirety once, but I often leaf through it and never fail to stumble upon a meaningful passage. Yolen was one of my favorite children's writers and as a result, it feels like advice in this book is coming from a beloved elder. Yolen's most powerful advice? This writing gig is supposed to be a really good time. If it doesn't bring you joy, what's the point, eh? This advice is so obvious, yet never fails to hit me hard with an "oh yeah . . . "

The Productive Writer by Sage Cohen just came out in the last half-year or so and is a book for those serious about turning their writing in their career and their lifestyle. While book does repeat itself a fair bit (perhaps since Cohen is obviously trying to comply with a 200-page contract), I found much of the advice in this book fresh, helpful, and totally in tune with the reality of writing in 2011. Most importantly, The Productive Writer reminds you that there are enough hours in the day to do meet your writing goals. Turns out it's all about choosing writing over knitting. Who knew? 

I've long be on the prowl  for a freelance writing book that deals with the stuff I don't quite grasp about a freelance career yet doesn't dwell on the stuff that I've already heard many times before. Michael Perry's Handbook for Freelance Writing is the best "how to" book I've found on the craft. Maybe I find the book's writing and advice so appealing because Perry's from the Midwest. He makes freelance writing sound like something even us A- personality types might succeed at. You should note that the book was written in the 1990s and as a result some of the advice (especially regarding technology) is glaringly out of date. The bare bones of the book are good enough to warrant overlooking this "issue" and I would totally buy a revised 2011 version of the book if it was available. Hear that Mr. Perry?

Do you have a favorite writing book? Or a favorite "how to" book? 


  1. Thanks so much for the book recommendations. I would like to turning this love of writing into a freelance something.

  2. I personally loved Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Her Zen Buddhist background makes writing into something like a prayer, and for me is very inspirational.

  3. I've read a couple of Anne Lamott's books, one I liked and one I didn't. She has an interesting writing style. Can't wait to see your knitting projects!

  4. I love the makeover!!!! I think your new cleaner look is much more legible.

    As far as the freelance writing quest goes: I am cheering you on!!!! I do not have any book recs, but I am interested to check out a couple of the ones mentioned above.

  5. LOVE the new blog look! Very very cool. Sorry March hasn't been your best writing month, if it helps, your blog writing has been fabulous : ) Thanks for the book info, my bucket list includes writing a book about my Grandfather or Father and I wouldn't even know where to start. Hope you get some inspiration and writing motivation soon!

  6. Aah, the agony of the empty page! 50,000 words are what I had to crank out in November as a participant in the famous NaNaWriMo: National Novel Writers Month. Yup, 50,000 words (or more)in one month, so that we can finally stop saying "some day I am going to write a book". 30 days. really? But I did it and was even awarded a proof copy of my novel in paperback. whoo hoo! so don't despair over March. you can still do it.

  7. I have a huge stack of "how to write" books that I've never even cracked. For a few years running, my sister got them for me for birthdays and Christmas. I want to read them, but I just never make the time for them.

    Maybe I should do it now...have a road trip this week...definitely need reading material.

    Thanks for the reminder that although they aren't necessarily what you need to do everything right, they do give tips and reminders and help get the process started sometimes.

    Hope April is better to you and you can reach a new and better goal in that month!

  8. Yikes, 50,000 is a bit steep. I try for 30,000. It is a smaller bite, more manageable. My favorite writing book is Noah Lukeman, First 5 pages. Greatness!

  9. This is going to sound really bizarre....but have you ever flipped through Nigella Lawson's cookbook "Kitchen"? She manages to pretty much write a novel before each recipe, and her over-the-topness just seems to wash over me, and leaves me feeling inspired! Whatever works hey? :P

    Sorry to hear March hasn't been great, here's to a fantastic April xoxo

  10. I set a goal based on your post to write 15,000 words this month. I haven't written much of anything since the first week. The kicker is that I don't really know why. I would love to be a freelance writer also but it's a daunting task with a full time job and no degree. I'm not quite sure where to start.

    Thanks for the book recommendations. I'll be sure to add them to my next Amazon order!

    A couple that I've really enjoyed are Accidental Genius by Mark Levy and Put Your Dream to the Test by John C. Maxwell. (I've written posts about both of them. ;

  11. I have quite a few, one is called 'The First Five Pages' which instructs the writer on how to ensure the publisher/agent takes you from the query pile into the 'read more - lets meet the writer pile' (isn't that where we all hope to be?) I am just reading one about how to write paranormal romance; my genre. But I also have those on grammar and one on memoir writing (my past is way too depressing and embarrassing to make for compelling reading I decided).

    Shah. Here from SeedBuzz, new follower. X

  12. Hi Ada,

    I really enjoyed this post, came across it at seededbuzz. It inspired me to write a similar post:

    I am now a follower of your site... i look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.



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