Happy Spring! I hope you are taking, or can take, a few quiet moments to appreciate the warmth and the small bits of colour that are starting to show up at this time of year.
In the spirit of all things fresh and green and growing, I want to share a bit of inspiration with you. As a writing mentor—someone who encourages others to birth their own unique creations and supports them in the physical act of writing—I’m often asked what my favourite writing books are. Where have I found my inspiration over the years?
My influences sit just over my shoulder in my workspace. I have them lined up in a row on a shelf where I can easily roll my chair back and grab one when I need to. I think of them—the books themselves and the authors—as dear friends who have taught me so much and also walked me through periods of low confidence and a lack of trust in myself.
Some of the books on my shelf include essays on creativity, others have writing exercises and prompts to get you writing, and there are a few that are about the craft of writing, specifically fiction.
This blog post includes my short list of faves, but if you’re interested in the full list, here it is!
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg
Published way back in 1986, this is one of the first writing books I bought myself. And wow, did it have an impact! Writing Down The Bones introduced me to the idea of timed writing. I remember being amazed at how many words I could actually produce in a short 10-minute chunk. I also learned that our writing can surprise us when someone else is providing the writing prompt. It’s like magic!
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott, a prolific writer of both fiction and memoir, said she wanted to write this book to share everything she knew about writing in one place. And that she does. There is practical advice about writing fundamentals—plot, character, dialogue—in addition to advice about the things that get in the way: the inner critic, perfectionism, and writer’s block.
But the biggest gifts of this book are the hilarious and vulnerable personal stories that create a feeling of intimacy between the reader and the author. Lamott’s words on “shitty first drafts” changed the way I thought about the writing process and the tale of the title, “Bird by Bird,” is worth the cost of the book alone.
Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives, by Louise DeSalvo
This is a book that has helped me enormously, both as a writer and as a writing mentor. The author, an award-winning memoirist and a Virginia Woolf scholar, discovered for herself the healing power of writing. She then went on to pen this beautiful book, chock-full of research and practical advice and techniques. It shows how anyone can use writing as a way to heal their emotional wounds and trauma (something we all have!).
My favourite parts of the book are the stories of how other writers, including Isabel Allende, Audre Lorde, and Henry Miller, were transformed by their own writing process.
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield
This slim volume of fabulous advice is basically about one thing: the energy that stands between us and everything we deeply want to do, achieve, or be. Pressfield calls this energy “Resistance,” and describes it as a negative and repelling force that pushes us, distracts us, or prevents us from doing the thing(s) we most want.
This book shone a light on something that I used to think was a unique problem of mine. For years, I wasn’t able to achieve my own big dream of writing a book and I blamed myself for not working hard enough, or being serious or smart enough. The War of Art made me realize that I was up against the same thing as every other artist. There was nothing wrong with me. I just had to learn how to work around Resistance. This book gave me those building blocks.
If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit, by Brenda Ueland
I had never even heard of this book before finding it in a used bookstore many years ago, but I have been singing its praises ever since! First, it’s feisty and feminist (despite being written in 1938), but underlying the laugh-out-loud chapter titles (Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Disregard It for Their Writing) is a beautiful philosophy.
Ueland, an American writer who taught creative writing for years at the YWCA, believed that we all have a “true self” and that when we write from this place, our stories are not only completely original, but also bold and fascinating. They will grab and hold the reader because they come from a true place and are not written to please others or satisfy a current trend. “Be bold, be free, be truthful” is Ueland’s motto. I couldn’t agree more.
I hope one or more of the books on my list will inspire you to put pen to paper. After writing this, I just want to curl up with all of these old friends again! Soon enough… I will be taking them with me on my upcoming writing retreat next month. And to a new location this time! I’ll tell you all about it in my next blog post. Stay tuned and happy writing!
Writing Your Way Book News!
Atlantic News, “Halifax’s Original Newstand” on the corner of Morris and Queen in Halifax is now carrying my book. If you’re local and planning to pick up a copy, show this long-standing independent store some love 💛❤️💜🧡 and spend your dollars there.
Sending huge gratitude to those of you who have bought copies for your friends and family! Thank you, thank you for your continued support!