This is the fifth in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/.
Generally, when the discussion about reading to impact your writing begins, many people’s thoughts turn toward writing references and guides. That’s good for a beginning. But reading books about writing mechanics, process, and the like should not be the only things you read as a writer. Part of developing yourself as a writer includes expanding your reach as a reader—after all, growth arises in many ways, and reading something for the purposes of growing your awareness of style, idea usage, and the like. Picking up a challenging new book in a genre you don’t normally read can often provide insights on your own writing. Or reading a favorite author’s journal or memoir about writing process may help you past your own struggles. It all really depends on what resonates with you. Here are some of my favorites.
For myself, reading journals, letters, and memoirs/autobiographies (not biographies!) of my favorite authors has been a good source of writing inspiration and development. I was an early fan of John Steinbeck, thanks to one of my high school teachers. As a result, one of the earliest writer reads that has stuck with me over the years is John Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. While writing East of Eden, Steinbeck would start every writing day with a short letter to his editor and friend Pascal Covici. It was part of his warmup process and a means of separating from daily concerns to developing the focus needed for the day’s work. In a similar vein is Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath and Steinbeck: A Life in Letters. Because Steinbeck often used letter writing as a tool for warming up, his letters frequently reflect not only what was going on in his life at the moment but what was happening with his writing process—a valuable insight into the struggles that all writers have.
I tend to prefer journals and letters to memoirs and autobiographies because writers can and will embellish later accounts while journals and letters reflect the writer’s state of mind at the time they were writing. May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude is billed as “the intimate diary of a year in the life of a creative woman,” and it does not disappoint. While ostensibly a book about the process of writing, Jay Lake’s Process of Writing 2005-2010 is a collection of blog posts Jay wrote about writing organized into topics which—really—tells you as much about Jay’s daily struggles with the writing life as it does anything else. Also, given Jay’s reputation as an extremely fast writer, he gives a breakdown of exactly what that looks like and what it means for him economically as a writer. His analysis of his differing rates of writing speed is something that I recommend every writer read.
And then we get to memoir and biography. One book that I think every writer should read is Anthony Trollope’s An Autobiography. Trollope wrote over sixty books over the course of his life, in part by exercising the discipline of rising early and writing 250 words every quarter of an hour for three hours before going to his day job with the British Post Office as a surveyor. His observations of the mid-19th century writing world (hint: Trollope does not like Dickens) are priceless and, if you have read Trollope or watched productions of his novels, you gain insights into how he built his characters. Ursula K. LeGuin’s essays on writing, often found mixed in with her other essays, are definitely worth considering.
And then there are the books explicitly about the craft of writing. Oh, the many books about writing techniques. I own a lot of them, and have bought and discarded many others. For me, the problem with many craft books is that they often speak to me at a particular stage in my writing or process. But as I progress beyond what they have to offer, I end up walking away from books I once loved. The reality about many books about the writing process is that they are often limited to a particular time and market. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you pick up an old Writer’s Digest book about writing, you need to crosscheck it to ensure that certain things about the field have not changed. Heck, that is true of any book explicitly about writing technique, because the techniques change and evolve.
Furthermore, while I know of many writers who cling to their favorite writing advice book over the course of the years, for me, the books that have resonated the most are those where the writer speaks candidly about the struggles they face in the writing life. The letters. The memoirs. The autobiographies. Those details where the struggle of the creative life is chronicled without whitewash or embellishment. The advice books often move on, except for a select few…but oh, the value of a chronicle of a writer’s struggle. At least that is what works for me.
And what about you?
Other posts in this series by Joyce Reynolds-Ward (note: each website owner will post at some point during the week listed).
March 29-April 4th—Organizing Your Plot www.joycereynoldsward.com
April 5-11—Self-editing, grammar, and beta readers https://authorwilliamcook.com/blog/
April 12-18—Genre and cross-genre https://tanstaaflpress.com/news
April 19-25—My Approach to the writing process https://varidapr.com
April 26-May 2—Reading to Impact your writing www.conniejjasperson.com
May 3-9—Advice for new writers https://lecatts.wordpress.com
Joyce Reynolds-Ward is a speculative fiction writer from Enterprise, Oregon. Her short stories include appearances in Well…It’s Your Cow, Children of a Different Sky, Allegory, River, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine. Her agripunk thriller trilogy, The Ruby Project: Origins, The Ruby Project: Ascendant, The Ruby Project: Realization, are due for release in November, 2020. Her books include Shadow Harvest, Choices of Honor, Judgment of Honor, and Klone’s Stronghold. Joyce has edited two anthologies, Pulling Up Stakes (2018), and Whimsical Beasts (2019). Besides writing, Joyce enjoys reading, quilting, horses, and hiking, and is a member of Soroptimist International of Wallowa County.