On Writing and Writing Books

One of the overwhelming things they tell you when you want to be a writer is that you have to read a lot. So I’m reading in my professional writing genre quite a bit, and enjoying it. Even the recent series that I stumbled upon, which has zombies (something I don’t like only because zombies are the only thing that can give me nightmares) is amazing. If anyone is interested, check out it’s called the Vertex series by Soren Summers. I didn’t know there were going to be zombies going into it, but it is oh so worth it.

Getting to the meat of my post, I wanted to talk about writing books. I don’t read books about writing. Rather, I listen to them (thank goodness for audiobooks!). I’ve only listened to 4 so far, but there’s something I took away from each.

Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down The Bones” and “Thunder and Lightning”. I listened to Bones first, and then after another book, Thunder and Lightning. There’s a bit of good that comes from each book, though they mostly talk about process and background. Goldberg is an old fashioned type writer, if I may say so. She talks about writing practice, and filling up stacks and stacks of notebooks. Writing practice is where you kind of let go and get in touch with what kind of writer you are. There’s a general guideline she has of “Maybe do writing practice two years before you attempt anything professional” and I can see that. But she goes on to say that the two year rule is more of a guideline than anything. The thing about Goldberg’s books, especially Bones, was that I would listen to them as I went on long afternoon walks – and whether it was her cadence or voice or just being inspiring, I spent a lot of the time with ideas for stories flooding my brain. How to work out a specific detail about the next Migration book? Well, it came to me as Goldberg was talking about a writing workshop in Minnesota, or the time she spent writing short poems for people at a farmer’s market for $1 per page. In all, I did enjoy both books, and though my mindset is more in the Thunder and Lightning realm, I enjoyed Bones much more.

Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”. This book confused me when I started it. King talks mostly about his childhood for the first 20% of the book. But the way he can tell a tale is amazing. His time discussing how he missed a lot of school and ended up in the doctor’s with an ear infection multiple times just creeped me the hell out. But the overwhelming thing about King’s work is the lesson that comes natural through the discussion of the book. Think you might have an idea? Go ahead and write it, because you’re meant to. Nobody can tell a tale in your voice but you. And even some of the most well known stuff by King started out when he was processing laundry for hospitals and doing other menial tasks. Even in those bleak moments of his life, he was able to get something written down on paper that changed the world. The book is almost like a list of do’s and don’t’s on writing, but sprinkled around an interesting life so that if you’re not paying attention, you might miss them. One thing he has said that bugged me, though, was the lesson “If you have a possessive apostrophe and the word ends with the letter S, it’s still an apostrophe S in your writing.” Of course in Migration there’s a lot of stuff done by Rhys – so that would mean I would have to go back and change them all from saying things like “Rhys’ voice was soft behind the roar of the waterfall” to “Rhys’s voice was soft behind the roar of the waterfall.” I think that’s the only thing I don’t agree with – but who am I to say? Maybe I just no longer have names that end with S in my writing as a way of getting around it? ::grin::

Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life”. Oh man. I had high hopes for this book after listening to just the very beginning, especially after the inchworm story. I’ll leave it here:

Dillard writes a passage about an inchworm, the proverbial inchworm, that inches its way to the top of a long piece of grass. It gets to the top and says, “What? No Further?” It starts panicking, it starts wriggling, it starts looking for somewhere further to go. Finally, it bends the grass over to another piece, it attaches itself, and it starts climbing to the top again. But when it finally gets there, it exclaims, “What? No further? End of world?” “Why don’t you just jump?” asks Dillard, “disgusted. ‘Put yourself out of your misery.'”

This little passage spoke to me so much.  Why?  Because I sometimes go into a bit of a creative tailspin thinking I don’t have anything creative in me.  It’s like a tree branch that grows into my prison cell.  I took and took and took from the branch, plucking all the wonderful creative bits and ended up snapping the branch in half.  And even though I can reach through the bars of my cell, and brush my fingers against the stub of creativity that hovers just far out of reach, that’s all I get.  Yes, I feel like I get a morsel every now and again, most mostly I sit there staring at the branch, wondering why it’s so far gone when I need it the most.

I am the inchworm.  I’ve reached the tip of that blade of grass, and wail back and forth because creativity is gone.  I’m at the end of my world and don’t know what to do next.

But that’s where Dillard’s book left me.  After the first ten minutes, it was just a mishmash of semi-connected stories on what she did when she wrote.  What cabins she rented.  The weather.  That time she went up in an airplane with a guy who ended up dying doing a barrel roll.  For someone to inspire me so much in the first ten minutes, and then let me languish so much for the last three hours…  Well, it was so disappointing.

So those are the four books I’ve listened to on writing.  I’ve taken away something from each of them, and I’ll keep going.

If you have suggestions for writing books, please let me know.  What was your favorite?  What worked for you, and what didn’t?  I enjoy listening to writing audiobooks as I deal with mundanity like weeding the yard or working on my 10,000 steps per day, because it brings a bit of brightness to a task that’s just shades of grey.

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