Because I used a handful of the books that influenced me to introduce myself, this week I thought we might have a chat about craft books. I find books about the work of writing not only interesting but immensely useful. Right now, I’m making my way through John Truby’s brilliant The Anatomy of Story, scribbling notes in the margins and dog-earing pages. (For those of you cringing your way through that sentence, I only do this with craft books. Promise.) But while I’ve read every book on the craft of writing my grubby little hands can snatch up, there are three that’ve really stuck with me.
About a year before I was set to graduate from college I decided that I needed to start applying to graduate programs. For reasons unclear to everyone, including myself, I was dead set on getting an MFA in creative writing. I just didn’t know if I should apply for poetry or fiction, as I’d taken an equal number of classes in each in my undergrad and enjoyed them both equally. So, being the indecisive twenty-something I was, I hauled myself to the English department, flopped myself down in a chair in my advisor’s office and demanded that he tell me if I was a poet or a fiction writer. He proceeded to give me some of the most useful advice of my life. He told me that just about anyone could learn to tell a good story, but if I could manage to craft a compelling story in the space of a poem, I could write anything I wanted. And that’s how I ended up with an MFA in poetry. Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook has been a pillar of my craft bookshelf since the first day of my MFA program. This little book taught me more about writing beautiful sentences than just about anything before or since.
I am not a Stephen King fan. (If you’re reading this, Mr. King, I’m sorry. I’d say it to your face. Your fiction ain’t for me.) But On Writing is fucking brilliant. Not only is a great look at how to put a story together, it was the first time I’d ever encountered real stories about what it means to do the work of being an author. It talks about rejection and writer’s block and how to push through all the many obstacles that stand in the way of anyone who wants to pursue this challenging- and ultimately extraordinarily rewarding- job.
Anne Lamott, you glorious, wonderful creature. Everywhere that I am not a Stephen King megafan, I am the loudest, most strident fan of Ms. Lamott. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life cured me of writer’s block, taught me patience, and made me a better human. The Diminished wouldn’t exist without the advice contained within these pages. If you find yourself struggling to get the words on the page, battling the jealousy dragons, or squaring off against publication woes, this is the book for you.
There you have it. Some books that helped me make a book of my very own. And hey! If you’re in the mood, for the next week, you can enter to win an ARC of my book, The Diminished, over on Goodreads. Run, don’t walk! when the giveaway hits 2,500 entries, I’ll be releasing the first recipe from the world of The Diminished. And for each 1,000 people who add The Diminished to their Goodreads TBR pile, I’ll release another! Don’t you want to learn to make cloud buns and salmonberry tarts?