Must-read Books for Writers


I invaded a conversation today about writing books that still hold up today, or our favorite ones we turn to over and over. Megan, Earl and Andy mentioned some great resources so I thought I’d share them with you.

The War of Art and On Writing have been mentioned over and over by most of my favorite people. Wonderbook, also, made the top five and I’ll endorse it here for its fun and silly approach to writing. It’s super cute, imaginative, and an excellent starter; but probably wouldn’t be of use to people who have been at it for a few years. Same could be said of Bird by Bird.

I brought up another work that applies to any artistic practice — much like the War of Art. Many Solstices ago, my dad gave me Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo. It’s aimed at musicians, as you can guess by the title, but the primary focus was on how to approach a practice. It emphasized elements of craft — study, practice, repetition, etc, and also encouraged the reader to take advantage of freedom of experimentation. It teaches the right attitude toward mistakes and failures. This is an essential practice to any pursuit that doesn’t have an ultimate goal beyond some vague concept of excellence.

I also recommended Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please because of what she has to say about being a working writer. She writes about how to stay productive, how to strike a work/life balance, and other insights on actually working in the industry. It’s largely aimed at women, but I think it’s for everyone who wants to be a working writer.

That said…

Don’t limit what you consume (watch, read, seek, discuss) to your genre/topic.

The more broadly you read, the more broadly you live, and the more stuff you’ll have to write about.

Whether you’re writing a pile of dick jokes or the next Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, you and I are taking on the exploration of what it is to be, to experience, to live.

The news has value. Academic papers on social sciences, music, cooking, metallurgy, and physics have value. Going to a concert can be just as valuable as Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. Studying the greats of your genre is a good place to start, but you will have more to say in your own way if you also study Malcolm X, Terence McKenna, and Hannah Arendt.

Or whoever else influences your ideology. Because that’s what books do.

And read people who absolutely 100% DON’T agree with you. Familiarize yourself with the difference between presentation and perception.

We’re tapping into something greater than ourselves, drawing connections and finding patterns that have the potential to help other people achieve some kind of anchor or clarity. Yes, heroic stories can have great worlds and cool systems, but the heart of the matter will always be the essence of what it means to be a hero.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my straight-edge, anti-drug self needs to come down from Graham Hancock’s Supernatural.


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