Writing is for the most part a solitary endeavor, something each of one of us has to figure out on our own. While it’s up to us to find our voice and say what we have to say, there is much inspiration and lots of advice to be had from a few books and resources. I’m not speaking about the proliferation of “how to write” books available today, but the timeless words of writers who have stood the test of time.
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Famed poet’s Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice to an aspiring poet, delivered in a series of thoughtful letters, stresses the importance of understanding artistic solitude and using it to nurture our creativity. It offers a treasure-trove of advice, including this:
“You ask me whether your verses are good. You ask me that… Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself. Examine the reason that bids you to write; check whether it reaches its roots into the deepest region of your heart, admit to yourself whether you would die if it should be denied you to write. This above all: ask yourself in your night’s quietest hour: must I write?”
Read more about the book at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letters_to_a_Young_Poet
The Elements of Style by Willing Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
You’re probably sick of people recommending this classic of grammar and style, but it’s one of the most concise and effective books of its kind ever written. Its small size and practical approach make it a more useful grammatical companion than the more detailed and more pretentious grammar books out there.
On Writing by Stephen King
Whether or not you read Stephen King, his book of advice for aspiring writers has been praised and many, and justly so. It touches on the fundamentals of writing and of being a writer and offers sound personal advice on living in and out of the page. Stephen King is very open about his own struggles as a writer and his life in general, and this makes the book an engaging and amusing read.
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide For People Who Read Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
The value of this book lies in the many rich snippets of mostly great literature on which Francine Prose reflects, analyzing them in the same way she encourages us to do. The premise of the book is that reading great writing carefully is an effective way to improve our writing. One of the messages of the book is “Read slowly!”, which is so important today, when the sheer amount of books, blogs, and other content available can easily lead to writing paralysis.
The Paris Review Interviews
You may be already familiar with the rich collection of interviews with famous writers published in the respected Paris Review literary magazine and now available online for free. If not, you’re missing many inspiring reads. Included are interviews with Italo Calvino, Pablo Neruda, Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vladimir Nabokov, Haruki Murakami, David Mitchell, Umberto Eco and many great women writers. These charming interviews reveal the methods and the approaches to writing of some of the most celebrated authors of the last sixty years or so.
Discover them at: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews
The books and resources above cover a lot of ground: the fundamentals of grammar and style, advice on learning to write through reading, a successful writer’s insight on the craft, a poet’s musings on using the power of artistic solitude to nurture creativity, and lots of tips and life studies from great writers.
There are so many other books on writing out there that this list could go on for a long time. But we have writing to do, don’t we? Let’s no get lost in the theory or among other writers’ voices and venture deep into ourselves to see what we find there. Let’s write.