Monday, July 25, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Reading Makes Me Want to Write

This week the fine bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish asked us to think about ten things books have made us want to do or learn about after reading them.  I kind of took it in my own direction...

When I was little, I wanted to be a ballerina.  One day I was on a hike with my parents, gamboling down the trail ahead of them, and I heard my mom sigh to my dad, 'Well, she'll never be a dancer."*

Which stung, but was less humiliating than the time the elementary school PE teacher shouted across a crowded playground, "Falconer, you run like a turkey!"*

Luckily, I had a backup plan.  I was going to be an author.

A few years later, it occurred to me that authors probably needed to be able to come up with stories that were actually interesting (anyone who's ever read 3rd grade fiction knows what I mean), so I switched it to "journalist."  But introverts aren't big on interviewing people, so for awhile I went with "orthodontist," which is super weird.  I guess I figured you got a lot of money for pretty simple work, based on my understanding of what was going on with my braces.

When I gave up on eventual authorship, I didn't give up on writing.  I kept journals in blank books through elementary, middle, and high school, and kept it up in college and on into my twenties.  I wrote pages and pages of letters as I traveled away from friends and family.  PAGES.  I'd estimate that about 30% of all the return mail I got included the phrase "that wasn't a letter you sent me, that was a novel!"  (Since my handwriting is atrocious, that was closely followed by "We couldn't really read anything you wrote, but it was nice to know you were thinking of us.")*

I took writing courses in college, and was thrilled to find out that there was a name for the navel gazing type of writing I favored: creative nonfiction.  Those classes were great fun, in large part because I was usually the only non-English major in the room, which gave me license to start off all the discussions by stating the obvious while everyone else waited for their chance to say something insightful.

It's always been obvious to me that my love of writing stems directly from my love of reading.  In high school I had a teacher who'd taught my sisters eleven years earlier.  When we turned in our first essays, she read mine to the class and said, "This is the level of writing you do only if you are raised in a house without a TV."*  It was delightfully mortifying, and remains one of the best compliments I've ever received.  Because I knew that what she meant was that I had absorbed so many lessons in how sentences can be structured, how ideas flow and what writing can DO, simply from constant reading, that my writing sounded more like me than like a five paragraph essay.

Of all the things reading has pulled me to do, learn, study and explore, writing is second only to more reading.  Here, then, is my list of books about writing.  I'm dividing it between writing books I've read and writing books I still want to read.

1.  The Elements of Style by Strunk & White.
It's a classic for a reason that far outstrips its actual usefulness.  It's mid-century modern at its best.

2.  Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
Recent reviews say this book isn't very good.  But recent reviewers were not young in the mid 1980s, when this book was THE book on writing.  College Me loved this book.

3.  On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Another one that totally dates me, this one was actually assigned in my college writing classes.  I just love the name Zinsser, frankly.  Names that start with Z are 27% cooler than other names. Scientific fact.

4.  A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
College Me also bought this one for my mom.  She loved it so much that a couple of years later she built herself a studio in the backyard for her fabric art.  No lie.  Woolf is still ahead of her time.

5.  Bird by Bird: Some Instructions for Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Now we're at least up to the 1990s.  Lamott is a hate-her-or-call-her-Saint-Anne type of writer and thinker.  I'm not a huge fan of her fiction, but I gobble up her essays, and this book is superb.

6.  On Writing: A Memoir of Craft by Stephen King
You don't have to be a fan of horror to appreciate Stephen King.  I read somewhere that he knows he writes baloney, so he figures it might as well be GOOD baloney.  His sick and twisted imagination is only half of the package; he's also great at writing compelling characters.  This book blends writing advice with personal memoir, and there's a reason why it's on the very top of Goodreads list of books about writing.

7.  The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
I kind of didn't finish Liar's Club, but I did really enjoy the part I read.  I'd love to find out what Karr has to say about mixing memory and story.

8.  59 Reasons to Write: Mini-Lessons, Prompts and Inspiration for Teachers by Kate Messner
I had this on my list for a solid year before realizing who the author is.  Now I REALLY want to read it.

* All of these are actual quotes.


  1. I loved reading this post :-) I would've loved to have been a ballerina when I was younger!

    1. It's the closest real-world job to "fairy princess," right? At least from a small child's point of view.

  2. Beautiful story. You are a lovely writer.

  3. I love creative nonfiction. I’ve edited it for anthologies and literary journals, but I’ve never tried writing it. Unless you count blogging. Some of my blog posts are pretty self-obsessed. I’ve read almost all of the books you mentioned in this post. Most of them were forced reads in college or grad school. The Stephen King one is my favorite.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. I'm starting to think you're living some parallel life I didn't get to lead--editing anthologies and getting advanced degrees in children's lit. (Wow,that sounded EVEN CREEPIER than I thought it would. Sorry.)

  4. Ouch on the turkey comment! I can imagine that stung. What a fascinating post! My degree is in computer science so I didn't really take any thing but the most basic liberal arts classes. Your creative writing class sounds absolutely fascinating! I've never wanted to be a writer but I find other people's stories about writing really interesting. I haven't read any of the books you've listed but I do have a copy of Bird by Bird and A Room of One's Own. Even though I don't want to write I love the idea of having my own space for my stuff!

    1. Oh the stories I could tell about that man. Terrible teacher.

      Yes, I still yearn for my own creative space. When the kids grow up, I hope!

  5. I think I love you. You are amazing and I really enjoyed reading it.

  6. I LOVE your spin on this week's topic. I myself engage in some writing on occasion. I was so envious of your recent trip on a writer's retreat. Keep following that inspiration! I love reading what you write!

    1. Thank you! I had fun with this post for sure.


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