If you want to write, you must read, and you must read a lot.
That said, if you are trying to write a book or an article, there are a few authors I recommend you avoid for the duration of your writing. Shakespeare. Hemingway. Faulkner. Fitzgerald. Basically, anyone who is commonly considered one of the greatest writers of all time.
Best case scenario, you'll end up imitating them. If you are 21 and live in Brooklyn writing like a man from the deep south of the 1930s, it will not make you sound profound so much as totally deranged. At worst, you will read about two pages of The Great Gatsby, realize you'll never do anything as good, and want to give up forever.
Save them for when you're finished. As you're working, read these instead.
I can't say I've found this one is especially inspirational, but, with sections like "commonly misused words" and "a few matters of form," it will cover all the technical aspects of writing you need to know. Someone has doubtless already given it to you as a gift, so you can keep it on your desk for the rest of your life and consult it regularly.
Anne Lamott is basically every young writer's Tenzing Norgay. The book provides all aspiring writers with tools and exercises, but also tips for navigating the insecurity that can accompany the writing process. Her advice, "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should've behaved better" is the mantra of everyone I know who writes personal stories.
Since I am not one of those people, I treasure Lamott's reminder that, "what if you wake up some day, and you're 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn't go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It's going to break your heart."
Lamott will tell you how to approach writing and, for that matter, life.
Stephen King's manual offers not only wonderful advice if you're striving to write suspense or horror, but integral advice for every writer.
One of his most memorable passages is about choosing to stop working inside a locked room with a massive desk at the center. Instead, he gets a small desk and opens the door to his family.
Writing can be an isolated profession and one that can allow you to cut yourself off from the world. Don't. Writing isn't an excuse to hide away in an attic and lord your genius over anyone else.
It's worth remembering King's excellent quote from On Writing that writing, "is about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy."
This is a novel cleverly disguised as a writing manual.
The story—about a failed writer of self-described "Midwest Grotesques" trying to win back his estranged wife, while simultaneously doling out increasingly bizarre writing prompts. If you've ever heard—probably in a creative writing 101 class—about how there are a limited number of stories in the world (man vs. man, man vs. nature, etc.), you will appreciate the narrator's insistence that one of them is always, "you awake on Christmas morning to find yourself in the nativity crèche only to realize all the other nativity figures are vampires and they can move" and that people must stop writing that exact story.
From the narrator's insistence that you should try to work the Green Lantern's Power Ring into your story as many times as possible, to the idea that you try eating only pixie sticks for a few days might inspire you, it's a great and very funny meditation on all the ways writers can and do self-destruct.
This is a perfect book if you need to remember why we write.
The novel traces a group of survivors who roam the post-apocalyptic countryside performing Shakespeare following a global pandemic. Their caravan bears the Star Trek motto "Survival is Insufficient."
If you are the kind of person who lives for plays, and stories, and comic books, namely, someone who cares about more than just surviving, this book is for you.
Jennifer Wright is the Political Editor at Large at Harper's Bazaar and author of four nonfiction history books, Get Well Soon, It Ended Badly, Killer Fashion, and the upcoming "Dead Girl's Guide to Dating." She recommends that young writers keep these books on hand for technical guidance, navigating insecurities, and falling in love with the creative process again and again.
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