Books on Writing: Remedies for Writer's Block and Other Maladies

Lee Kelly returns to solve your writer's block with books about writing!

Whenever I get sick of my own writing, I dive into a new novel that I’m beyond excited to start.  And reading someone else’s story and the world they’ve built with only their imagination usually shakes me out of my funk and reminds me of why I approach the page in the first place.

 

But sometimes reading fiction just doesn’t cure my writing bug, and then I know I need a different remedy.  Sometimes I’ll need a pep talk… sometimes, just a brush-up on the basics.  Sometimes I just need to wallow a bit, and listen to a successful writer acknowledge that this writing game is hard. 

 

That’s when books on writing can be the best medicine. 

 

Fortunately, there’s a writing book remedy for every ailment.   Here are some of my favorite books on writing, and the writing maladies they’ve helped me chase away.

 

WRITING AILMENT:  I FORGET WHY I EVEN STARTED WRITING IN THE FIRST PLACE

REMEDY: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

 

Lamott writes with honesty and vulnerability about how writing needs to be its own reward.  She considers writing to be the ultimate human act, an attempt to uncover why we are they way we are – and that it taps into the primal, ancient art that is storytelling.  Her focus is on the means of writing, not on the end of publication, and her complicated, almost romantic exploration of why writers approach the page always gives me chills.  It reminds me of why I started doing what I’m doing… and why I need to do it still.

 

 

WRITING AILMENT:  I NEED A WAKE-UP CALL

REMEDY:  Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art

 

Pressfield is like a good coach: he’s encouraging but tough, hard-knocks but fair.  And what is he coaching?  Our creative confidence.  Pressfield argues that the only thing stopping us from writing or any other creative endeavor is ourselves and the Resistance that we hold onto and hide behind.  If ever there’s a book that makes you want to jump into your seat and prove your inner naysayer wrong, this is it.

 

 

WRITING AILMENT:  I NEED A ROLE MODEL

REMEDY:  Steven King’s On Writing

King’s book is on many people’s favorite-writing-books list, as he’s… you know, Stephen King.  And his memoir’s unique in that it combines an engaging autobiographical portion, as well as practical advice on writing and process – King writes in the morning, every day, until he hits his word count goal of 2,000 words.  He also approaches the revising process in a similar way for each of his books (and think of all of those books!)  Whenever I feel like I want to overhaul my writing schedule and want a model for consistent productivity, I turn back to On Writing.

 

 

WRITING AILMENT: I HATE MY OPENING

REMEDY:  Les Edgerton’s Hooked

“Why a book on just story beginnings?  The simple truth is, if your beginning doesn’t do the job it needs to, the rest of the story won’t be read by the agent or editor or publisher you submit it to.”  So begins Edgerton’s thesis – craft a killer first line, a strong first chapter, and a boom of an inciting incident, and you’ll make it past the slush pile – and Edgerton takes you through his process, step-by-step.  While some of my writer buddies consider the book a bit formulaic, I think it serves as an excellent reminder of how writers need to grab the reader on the very first page.

 

 

WRITING AILMENT:  I FEEL LIKE MY BOOK IS “TOO QUIET”

REMEDY:  Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel

We’ve all seen the term “high concept” on agents’ and editors’ wish lists.  But what exactly does that mean?  Maass, author of nearly twenty novels and an agent himself, provides insight into the term in a thoughtful and example-laden way, touching on the notions of universal themes, larger-than-life characters and unforgettable settings.  True, not every writer wants to write “high concept”, but at the very least Maass provides a fun, standout spin on storytelling basics.

 

 

What are your favorite books on writing?  Any recommendations for my list?  Continue this conversation all week long be tweeting me @leeykelly!

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