I love stories and movies and shows and books, and they were a motivating factor in starting this blog. But my main inspiration for blogging was to be able to have a platform to consistently write, to try new styles and voices, to practice selecting the right word and forming the right structure, in short, to learn to communicate more effectively. And I hope if you consistently read Did you blank it?, you can appreciate the writing, if not for its skill, at least for its adventurism.
And where my love of books and writing meet are a slew of books about writing that have impacted the way I write, the way I view writing, or inspired me to do more writing. These are few of those books…
On Writing by Stephen King
Is it possible that one of the most popular writers of a generation, the biggest household name in literature maybe ever, is underrated? I think maybe… And I started to consider this option, not after the twentieth book of his that I read, or after placing my third book of his on my Personal Top 50 book list, but after I read is memoir on writing called, aptly, On Writing.
Equal parts memoir and writing guide, King combines his experience and his knowledge to create a guide about how to be a great writer, not in a functional sense, but as a human. How a writer lives, what a writer values, what a writer does. And it is equal parts profound, helpful, entertaining, and wholly daunting.
His challenge at the beginning of his chapter about ‘Reading to Write,’ (I guess it wasn’t an explicit challenge, but I certainly viewed it that way) where he claims writers need to read a lot and that he reads anywhere from 70-80 books a year, made me revise my entire day to be able to read 80 books a year. That stat is not merely an excuse to tell you how much I read, but a way to let you know the type of impact this book had on me and could have on you.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
One word makes all the difference between King’s memoir and Zinsser’s how-to guide. King writes about writing, Zinsser writes about writing ‘well.’
Zinsser does not write a book that will impress us with his breadth of experience, but will explain to us what good writing is, in a feat of great writing all itself. On Writing Well is maybe the most interesting textbook of all time, at times it feels more like a novel that both exemplifies and explains the subtle and intentional ways that a nonchalant and casual voice is carefully crafted through time, effort, and revisions.
Zinsser narrates the importance of such abstract ideas as clarity, concision, word choice, style, audience, and unity, in concrete ways that make the most inaccessible aspects of writing seem obvious.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott provides a secondary option for a writing memoir that combats King’s On Writing. Less circulated, but still impactful, Lamott presents a neurotic and hectic look at the writing life. Bird by Bird tends to reflect on the low points of writing, and how they can be indistinguishable from the high points. Lamott is reflective and funny and transparent about a life of writing and it prepares you for the unconquerable.
In a world of books that worship at the altar of writing, this book feels like the Old Testament of the writing Bible.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s memoir is absurdly self-aggrandizing, obviously inflated, as unattainable as it is narcissistic, and I love every page of it. Since Hemingway published this masterpiece, every woman or man who has taken up the pen or sat at a blank computer screen has looked to capture the ethos of this writing experience. Nevermind that it probably wasn’t this great and comes from a bygone era. A Moveable Feast is the father of the desire to live, however meagerly, on the profits of writing, to write words others read, and to have a life dedicated to writing and experiencing the world in a way worth writing about.
It also provides the most nonsensical and inspiring piece of advice ever given to the writing community- when you do not know what to write, sit down and try to write the truest sentence you can think of.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Some people may cry foul on this one and claim this is not a book about writing. They may say it is a book about fiction and the power of reading to help people overcome the ties that bind. But inverse to that story in Reading Lolita in Tehran, is the story of creation, of women who had everything in their lives taken away or regulated except for their powers of imagination, and with those powers of imagination, they created poetry and literature and this book.
Nafisi, the guide through the literature that her illegal book club consumes, writes this memoir about her time in the Islamic Republic of Tehran as a woman, a literature professor, a lover of books, and a writer. Through her experience, we can understand the power of reading and the importance of writing words worth reading.
Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve by Ben Blatt
This book is the most unique book on writing I have read, and I really liked it. It didn’t change any way that I wrote, but it confirmed the values taught to me in the books above. Inspired by the way scientists used data to discover authorship of unknown books, like with the Federalist Papers, Blatt compiled massive amounts of data on the way people write, tracked the success of books through various metrics, and suggested that certain truisms in writing (like don’t use adverbs) may actually be true for a reason.
This is the most 2000s way to go about writing about writing, using data and metrics to try and discover what great books are made of, but it also is an interesting look at how great writing often has an intentional structural make-up. Books are words and sentences and paragraphs and great books are great words and great sentences and great paragraphs. A book may sound casual and effortless, but those are the very books that were anything but.
Writing is hard. It is greedy. It is relentless. Anyone who writes knows how easy it is for inspiration and desire to dwindle, especially when we just do this on the side. These books served as a needed boost to continue to do something I love in the moments where I felt anything but love for it.
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