Why read about writing? It’s a good question since there is such a plethora of books, magazines, and articles about writing. Such a number that it can be overwhelming, making a fledgling writer and even an experienced writer feel small and inadequate given the sheer quantity and conflicting messages. It often seems easier to ignore it rather than wade through trying to determine what is worth reading or which is the advice worth following, but there are a number of reasons, some better than others, that make it worthwhile.
The first, often my favorite, is that it helps you procrastinate while still feeling like you’re being productive. You may not be working on the project you should be, but at least you’re doing writing related things.
A second reason, probably the most popular, is learning new writing techniques and reviewing ones you already know. This is often the focus of writing classes. These techniques include point of view, characterization, setting, imagery, etc. Learning the most common ways to approach these and how different writers approach them, broadens your writing palette. Most often, these books come complete with writing exercises, another reason to read them. Writing exercises, especially if you’ve never done them before, encourage your mind to think in new ways or new directions, or in some cases like writer’s block, to begin thinking at all. They stimulate creativity whether you’re just doing them for fun, to navigate writer’s block, to focus your thoughts in one direction to calm writer’s blink, or to fine tune your craft.
Another reason to read about writing is that it connects you in a unique way to the writing community. Reading a novel or a memoir of some kind is more of a passive activity. It’s true you get involved in the story, and it often makes you think. However, there is usually no following action or response. But in my experience, in the case of books or articles about writing, you usually respond in some way, trying an exercise, continuing a story, or beginning a new one. These books and exercises often spark an idea which could create a story, which in turn is read by others. In these interactions, without ever meeting one another, we become part of a community.
I’ve read my share of writing books and done my share of exercises, some in writing classes and some on my own. I have several books that I’ve found to be more helpful than others, and given the plethora of books out there, some not so good, I thought I’d share my favorites. The first is called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I was introduced to this book in my very first writing class, and its ideas have stayed with me ever since. The second is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg who also recently published The True Secret of Writing. I’ve found her approach to be very down to earth. The last, while not exactly a book about writing, more a book of exercises, I have found equally helpful. It is called The Writer’s Block by Jason Rekulak.
With all of this discussion on reading about writing, it’s important to note that nothing will actually get done unless you do in fact write, despite the appeal of procrastination. As Natalie Goldberg says in her new book, at some point you just have to, “shut up and write.”
By Melissa Blakely
Images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Image credits in order of appearance: marin, thanunkorn, stockimages.