Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Writing on Wednesday! Writers Read

Writers Read


If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write. ~ Stephen King

We’ll be talking a lot about writing here, but I’m going to launch the Wednesday feature of my new "Writers and Other Animals" blog with some comments on reading. Why? Because serious writers read, and read a lot – not just in terms of quantity, but in terms of variety, too. I don’t mean that we all have to read everything. Zombies and werewolves don’t normally grab me – which on one at least one level is a good thing! – but occasionally I've found a gem when I've strayed from my literary comfort zone. There’s Ursula LeGuin’s terrific short fiction, "The Wife’s Story," for instance, which I reread every so often and recommend highly. I wouldn’t normally gravitate toward Westerns, but then there’s that ultimate Western by Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove, which I think of as the Great American Novel. Apocalyptic dystopias don’t normally thrill me, but I couldn’t put The Hunger Games down.

When I hear someone – especially an aspiring writer – diss an entire genre or subject, I wonder how they can be so certain that there’s nothing there worth learning, and possibly even savoring. If nothing else we can learn what not to do if we don’t like a piece of writing. At least we can if we look at it closely before we toss is in the recycle bin. Better yet, we can figure out what does work, especially if it’s a popular book or author. I’m not suggesting that we write to please the masses (whoever they are), but it’s really hard to see the flowers along a path if we have our noses too high in the air.

My books of choice are usually (in no particular order) literary fiction, narrative nonfiction (especially nature and travel writing and memoirs that are about more than me me me), mysteries and thrillers, nonfiction about animals, and books about writing and art. But if you have read something terrific outside my usual picks, let me know – I might give it a try!

I can’t list all the books I love. The list would never be finished, and you’d run screaming when you saw how long it is. Instead, I’m going to list ten of my favorite books on writing, again in no particular order. It’s not a definitive list, just ten books that I have found useful or inspiring. We’ll do lists of other kinds of books in future weeks, so stay tuned! Okay, here we go:

  • The Art of Description by Mark Doty
  • Spunk and Bite by Arthur Plotnik
  • The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
  • The Situation and the Story by Vivan Gornick
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Silber
  • Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters by Michael Tierno
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

What are your favorite books on writing?


Sheila's taking a break in August, and rerunning some earlier posts. This post originally ran last May. Look for new posts to resume in September - but maybe some of these are new to you! 



  1. I've never been big on inspirational books, but I loved Stephen King's book, On Writing. I also believe an author needs a good dictionary, a good Thesaurus, and a good grammar/punctuation book.

  2. Great blog! the King quote is timely for me, as I often feel too busy to read. Need to work on that.

  3. Kathleen, you're right, finding time can be a problem. I decided a few years ago to treat reading as a job requirement (one that I love!), so I schedule reading time as I schedule writing time.

  4. I ADORE the Gornick book, but a lot of writers don't because she can get downright I think you and I must have very similar tastes, Sheila; all the books you listed are on my shelves. Thanks for the reminder that I need to dive into at least one of them each week to keep me on track. Sometimes, reading just a short segment is all the help I need.
    Linda Rehkopf, metro ATL

  5. Linda, that's not too surprising, considering our taste in dogs :-) Don't forget to read terrific books that are not ABOUT writing, too! They're our best teachers! Thanks for coming.