What are your favourite writing books?
Most writers I know went through a time in their professional development when they were reading more about writing than actually doing any writing. I look back at that stage as my cocooning — necessary and nourishing but eventually you must break out. Stop reading. Start writing.
I thought of that again this weekend reading The Globe and Mail’s Shelf lives, where writers are asked to describe the books that inspire them. Malcolm Gladwell, referring to his current writing project exploring power says: “I’ve probably acquired 150 books for this project. I haven’t read all of them, and I won’t. Some of them I’ll just look at. But that’s the fun part. It’s an excuse to go on Amazon. The problem is, of course, that eventually you have to stop yourself. Otherwise you’ll collect books forever.” Too true. Here is a short list of some of the best writing books on my shelf: the ones that helped finally kick me out of cocoon:
On Writing Well by William Zinsser. This is still the number one book I recommend to writers who ask for recommendations. “Fighting clutter is like fighting weeds — the writer is always slightly behind,” writes Zinsser. A must-read.
The Art and Craft of Feature Writing by William E. Blundell. A meaty read from a Wall Street Journal writer, includes such tidbits as: “Readers love action, any kind of action, and the story that does not move, that just sits there stalled while people declaim, explain, elaborate and suck their thumbs is justly labelled by some editors as a MEGO — My Eyes Glaze Over.”
Write Where You Live: Successful Freelancing at Home: Without Driving Yourself and Your Family Crazy, by Elaine Fantle Shimberg. This handbook includes such revolutionary lines as: “Never let your kids play games on your computer. It’s a tool of your work. A surgeon wouldn’t let her kids use the scalpel to do woodworking.” And that is the best writing advice I have ever ignored.