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Four Favorite Books for Writers Sure to Energize The Creative Soul

Dog-eared and dear to me

a woman sitting at her desk writing, barefoot
photo: Darius Bashar via Unsplash

Let me be clear.

I think that the best way to be a writer is to write, all the time. Whenever you have a spare moment. To scribble in notebooks, on placemats, and index cards. To have an unapologetic love affair with your keyboard every day, caressing it while drafting, outlining, researching, and crafting ingenious queries. Writers should go to sleep at night begging for creative dreams to bring them ideas, pleading with their subconscious to lay out the perfect plot while they sleep.

But it's not enough to WANT to be a writer. You must BE a writer.

Talking about it. Taking yet another class. Joining one more group. Papering your walls with inspirational literary words. None of those things makes you a writer. The only thing that does is actually doing the work. Putting pen to paper and fingers to keyboard - day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year - is what molds you into what you want to become.

Write...AND read. Four of my favorite books for writers -

sure to energize your creative soul

The only thing other than writing that can help a writer is reading. Even then, reading cannot supersede writing...but it can definitely inspire it!

Here are four of my favorite books for writers that inspired, enlightened, and nurtured my writing ambition.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

I have to tell you...

A dear friend of mine, Teresa Medeiros, and I went to a writer's conference in Kentucky early in our careers. We were both on fire to write. It was 1986, and the keynote speaker was a young, wild-haired woman named Natalie Goldberg.

Her presentation rocked me. It was fervent, honest, and felt like a drug injected directly into my veins. If the truth be told, Goldberg's Bohemian approach was a bit of a shock to my sheltered midwestern perspective in 1986, but her passion for writing was infectious, and her soul spoke to mine. I have cherished Writing Down the Bones for years, my copy dog-eared and dear to me.

Little did we know at that time that we had just heard the author of one of the writing world's greatest hits...and the one that tells it true.


Natalie Goldberg understood that talking, thinking, and dreaming about writing isn't enough, and she urges us to actually do it:

"Write for an hour, or twenty minutes, or whatever amount you decide, but write for all it's worth. Keep your hand moving, pour out everything, straight from your veins, through your pen and onto the paper. Don't stop. Don't doodle. Don't daydream. Write until you're spent."

I agree with her when she intimates that the best high is an intellectual one.

If you want to get high, don't drink whiskey; read Shakespeare, Tennyson, Keats, Neruda, Hopkins, Millay, Whitman, aloud and let your body sing. (56)

Goldberg, years ago, wrote what I now know to be true about my need to write:

"It's only that money isn't the driving force. I feel very rich when I have time to write and very poor when I get a regular paycheck and no time to work at my real work."

Decades after I heard Goldberg speak, I finally embraced who I really am. "I am a writer," I declared to myself, and that utterance in my soul soon started shouting that same message to the world.

Goldberg describes it this way:

"You never leave who you are. If you're a writer, you're a writer when writing, you are also a writer when you are cooking, sleeping, walking. And if you are a mother, a painter, a horse, a giraffe, or a carpenter, you will bring that into your writing, too. It comes with you. You can't divorce yourself from parts of yourself."

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I know! Everyone cites this as one of their favorite writing books. I can't help but join the masses on this one. Bird by Bird IS one of my favorite writing books.

Bird by Bird was published in 1994, and I read it when I was teaching writing classes and writing weekly columns for our local newspaper. Lamott's descriptions of the writing life and the mental anguish that goes with it are so real, so without artifice, so apropos that I often thumb its pages almost thirty years later, smiling at highlighted passages and feeling the creative kick in the butt that all writers need occasionally.

This old book feels fresh to me every time I read it. Here is just one passage out of hundreds that I've highlighted.

"One of the things that happens when you give yourself permission to start writing is that you start thinking like a writer. You start seeing everything as material. Sometimes you'll sit down or go walking and your thoughts will be one aspect of your work, or one idea you have for a small scene, or a general portrait of one of the characters you are working with, or you'll just be completely blocked and hopeless and wondering why you shouldn't just go into the kitchen and have a nice glass of warm gin straight out of the cat dish. And then, unbidden, seemingly out of nowhere, a thought or image arrives. Some will float into your head like goldfish, lovely, bright, orange, and weightless, and you follow them like a child looking at an aquarium that was thought to be without fish. Others will step out of the shadows like Boo Radley and make you catch your breath or take a step backward. They're often so rich, these unbidden thoughts, and so clear that they feel indelible. But I say write them all down anyway."

Lamott's writing is funny, honest, and unfiltered, and I love it, then, now, and far into the future.

The review from the Seattle Times printed on the back of my brown-paged, original copy of Bird by Bird says it all:

"A gift to all of us mortals who write or ever wanted to write...sidespittingly funny, patiently wise, and alternately cranky and kind - a reveille to get off our duffs and start writing now, while we still can."

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krause Rosenthal

I adore this book because it's not like other books. It's a quirky, clever, and altogether lovely memoir.

Amy Krause Rosenthal does not tell a linear story. Instead, she chronicles her life by describing bits and pieces of it in alphabetic entries. Hard to describe. Delightful to read.

In the process, she gives us glimpses of her childhood, her creative process, her beliefs, and her dreams.

So many of Rosenthall's encyclopedia "entries" moved me, but one of the most memorable was the entry for "Y" at the end of the book. Its poignancy hurts, especially in view of the fact that Amy Krause Rosenthall, children's author, filmmaker, and writer extraordinaire, died at the age of 51 from ovarian cancer, ten days after writing an essay for the New York Times, "You May Want to Marry My Husband."

One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty

One Writer's Beginnings, by Southern writer, Eudora Welty was one of the earliest volumes I purchased for my writing library. I bought it in 1984, and it's a much quieter, much more meditative book than my other three favorites above. Still, it's a thoughtful book, urging me to remember - really remember - the incidents from my upbringing that made me a writer.

Welty remembers that her "first good story began spontaneously, in a remark repeated to me by a traveling man...," a statement that begged me to remember what sparked my first story. She urges all writers to concentrate on their memories because,

" the memory, nothing is every really lost."

She recalls her love of books, a passion that is part of a writer's psyche, as well as her disillusionment as a child

"to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass. Yet regardless of where they came from, I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them -- with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself."

Like Welty, I will always be grateful to my parents for being readers who gave me the gift of words...

" I live in gratitude to my parents for initiating me - and as early as I begged for it, without keeping me waiting -into knowledge of the word, into reading and spelling, by way of the alphabet."

Read. Write. Write some more.

Even if you're not a writer, these books are marvelous reads. If you ARE a writer, these should definitely be in your reading repertoire because they're sure to energize your creative soul.


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