Books on Writing That Are Hidden Gems

Books on Writing

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is on hidden gems. I love reading books on writing, and thought that this would be a fun topic. A lot of us have heard of Stephen King’s On Writing and Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating With the Dead, but there are so many out there that aren’t as popular!

I prefer memoirs on writing lives, but technical books on writing have their places. I sometimes think that if I keep reading then I’ll find the golden key and unlock the gate on writing. But I’ve read a ton of these suckers and they all say the same thing: keep writing and reading, and don’t have high expectations. Harumph.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – By far the funniest book on writing that I’ve ever read! Here’s the link to my original post. If you don’t follow Anne Lamott on social media or haven’t read any of her stuff, you might not know that she is hilarious. She offers some great advice in the book. My biggest takeaway was to not have publishing as an end goal. Instead, write for the love of writing and because you have a story to tell. She has some practical advice on how to show up to the keyboard when the work gets hard and –my personal favorite — the most hilarious way to avoid liability when writing about someone. If you only read one book on writing, this would be my recommendation!

Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop by Danell Jones – you can read my blog post here. This was a great combination of memoir and instruction. Of course, it wasn’t Virginia Woolf’s actual memoir. The brilliant author is such a Woolf fan that she was able to distill Woolf’s considerable body of work on writing and reading into this fun and quick book. The reader is a student taking a writing workshop taught by Virginia Woolf and sprinkled throughout are tidbits from her journals, letters, and published manuscripts. This was such a labor of love and I wish that I knew enough about a single author to be able to do the same!


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Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – More of my thoughts can be found here. This was such an inspirational book – a little kooky, but I don’t shy away from the woo-woo. I loved her ideas about where inspiration comes from and striking while the iron is hot. I also loved reading about her friendships with other writers and how that energy can be shared and move around in surprising and unexpected ways. This whole idea of living a creative life without fear is fascinating to me, because all of the unknow-ables are terrifying!

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – I have been citing this book for a long time on my blog, but only recently read it! Here’s a link to my post on it. This is the book that first discusses the idea of Morning Pages, the practice of daily journal writing that has absolutely changed my life. The book in its entirety is a sort of self-esteem book for aspiring artists. It’s all about moving past the barriers that get in the way of our true creative selves. It’s magnificent and potentially life changing.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury – another very recent read for me, which you can read about here. This was another fast collection of essays that reiterated the importance of writing a lot and reading even more. There was a lot of humor that I wasn’t expecting, although I don’t know why. The only Bradbury book I’ve ever read is Fahrenheit 451, but that was much too long ago and I’ve added so many of his other books to my TBR since reading this one. I was most inspired by his compulsive need to write every day and it’s one that I’ve tried to cultivate in myself.

Deep Work by Cal Newport – Another recent read for me. This one isn’t actually a book on writing, but it’s a book on strategies to ensure that you get stuff done. Do you ever find that you’re working on a project that you’re excited about, but then realize that you’ve been scrolling through Facebook and lost a half hour of time? Then you might consider checking out this book. He describes Deep Work as something that requires intense concentration and has practical advice on how to increase your concentration. My extreme takeaway from this has been to remove Twitter and Facebook from my phone – best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time!

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard – Thoughtful and contemplative, classic Annie Dillard. Here’s my original blog post on it. Dillard attempts to describe her own method and some of her writing inspiration. I found this hard to relate to in my own writing life, but still incredibly difficult to put down. There was one analogy about finding inspiration to write that involved a Native American woman ripping out her own flesh to use as bait – oh my gosh, the tattoo ideas I got from that one! Fabulous, wonderful, and a very fast read!

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey – Struggling with a way to organize your day? The editor of this book meticulously researched the daily habits of writers, painters, sculptors – artists of all kinds! Some were incredibly self-destructive and others were so disciplined that they were destructive in other ways. But no matter your home life – your work hours, your family obligations, your interests – I guarantee you will find an artist and a schedule that resonates with you. This is a beautiful book and easy to pick up and flip through at your leisure.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg – I haven’t actually read this one yet, but I am dying to! This books seems to be referenced in all of the nonfiction that I’ve been reading lately. Originally published in the 80s, it apparently has quite the staying power. This is another book that’s all about breaking through the barriers of our minds that keep us from showing up to do the hard work (seems like a theme in this post, right? It’s actually the biggest theme in all of these books. Showing up is hard.) I can’t wait to read it!

Method and Madness: The Making of a Story by Alice LaPlante – this is another that’s on my TBR. I’m interested in reading this book because it talks about how fiction works. When writing, I’m sometimes stumped because I feel like I don’t always know the simple mechanics of storytelling, so I’m always looking for tools to help me understand the writing lingo a bit better. I guess my hope is that knowing the technical stuff will help me with the actual writing, but I’m not always convinced that’s true!

Okay – what did I miss? Is there a book that you think I should read? Or did you HATE any of the books that I listed here?


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