Books about writing have this way of being about a lot more than writing. I mean, have I ever explained why I hate ellipses? It’s not just that they’re often misused.1 Here are some of my favorite books about writing and being a human being, and especially about being a human being who writes.
On Writing, Stephen King
This is one of those books I really treasure. I tried to leave it behind in Washington when I first moved to California, but then on a trip home, I went searching through the boxes of books in my mom’s basement to find it again. I first read it 10 years ago, and have picked it up several times since. Stephen King offers some practical suggestions, but the book is mostly the memoir of a person who really loves writing and has done a lot of it. I reread it when I need to get back in touch with romantic notions of writing. It woos me.
The Faith of a Writer, Joyce Carol Oates
Like there was ever a chance JCO wouldn’t appear on this list. Late in college, I was really into running and writing, and then I discovered that my writing and academic hero had written a memoir that combined those two interests exactly. Had I not been in the midst of a theological crisis, I’d have thought it a miracle. JCO has this way of making me feel like all the time in my life I have spent being introspective was not a waste; as she says, it is as legitimate a subject for fiction as anything else. (More)
Zen in The Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury
I read this book only recently for the first time, and I am sure it is one I will pick up again when I need a little kick. Not at all unlike Stephen King and JCO, Ray Bradbury loved to write and he spent his whole life doing it. He emphasizes the importance of bringing your own experiences–your loves and hates–to the table when you write. All the time, you’re collecting data that may later be used in fiction, and it is unique to you. So throw your whole damn self into it. Start by writing 1,000 words a day and never stop. (More)
The Elements of Style, Strunk & White
If you only ever read one technical book on writing, it should be this one. You may never get, “Omit needless words!” out of your head, but that’s not such a bad thing. (Should I omit “such” from that sentence; should I delete this whole parenthetical? Ahh!) It is very short and I reread it every few years to remind myself that adverbs are evil. When you start diving into the technical aspects of writing, you can lose yourself for a while. Writing became difficult for some time when I was in college, because I was second guessing every comma, but you come out on the other side of that a better writer (who still sometimes misuses commas).
Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss
If you didn’t know punctuation could be hilarious, then prepare yourself for this one. Really, it is a delightful book, and I read it in college and still recall several lessons learned (like every day v. everyday). I recently reread it and was reminded of several grammar and style issues I’ve forgotten over the years. This book was one of many things that shifted my attitude toward grammar. I’ve always loved writing, but was intimidated and bored by technical grammar issues until I began to understand them better and recognize their power and realize that perfection is not the standard. Learn as much as you can, but have fun with language too. You own it as much as anyone.