If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.Stephen King
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If you’re looking for reliable writing advice, start with this: read more. I have tried to become the reader I was when I was a child, but it has become more difficult to do every year. I work eight hours a day and I am tired when I get home, tired of thinking, tired of interacting with people like a mature human being, tired of acting like a human being, tired of noise, bustle, crowds, and traffic. I just want to sit down and be myself. I don’t want to read. I don’t really want write.
I do want to be a better writer however and if there is one thing that is missing from my writing life, from my writing habits, it’s more reading. I cram in ten, fifteen minutes here and there at work, and a chunk of free time on the weekends, but I’m not voracious. I’m not even hungry, anymore.
Books, blogs, writers, do inspire me. Books, especially, inspired me to be a writer. I want to create the magic that enchanted me, that still thrills me, on occasion, when I happen upon an outstanding author who is endowed with all the gifts.
The following are just some of the books I draw inspiration from, that have taught me how to write, that have kept me reading, dreaming, and trying.
The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition
This book should go in the first spot on my post about resource books for writers (I haven’t written it yet). But, I can’t say enough good things about it. I have one of the editions by William Strunk and E. B. White and though there are newer editions I wouldn’t trade this. This book changed everything for me – the way I write, the way I speak, the way I edit and revise my manuscripts. It helped me (or forced me) to to move my level of writing skill from control to precision. It is such an integral part of my writing life, my writing journey, my growth as a writer, that it has become an object of sentiment, almost of nostalgia. This is essential. You’ll find this advice, this statement, repeated from blog to video and author to professor. The Elements of Style is essential.
Writing advice: Be concise but not at the expense of clarity.
The Old Man and The Sea and A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
Yes, this guy again. The Great American Writer of novels, short stories, and so forth. Hemingway is the master of simple, elegant prose. He said his goal was to write using a vocabulary that a fourth grader could understand…or maybe it was a ten-year-old. He succeeded and proved that writers don’t need big words to express big ideas. Depth, sophistication, intelligence, wisdom, pain, hatred, rage, loss, loneliness, life, death. He did it all and set a particular, muscular stamp on American literature and the future of literature, in general. He is as good as everyone says he is. The Old Man and The Sea made me a believer and a fan. Its short (128 pages) and so wonderfully written, so spare, so magical, so detailed, so harrowing, and so real, it made my body of work seem…overwritten and bare. A Moveable Feast is nonfiction, Hemingway in Paris in the 1920s and its amazing, if you like looking into the lives of writers. There is a lot to learn here, as well, about how he structured his day, planned his writing, thought about writing, inspiration, and productivity, how a writer should live, and how important literature was to him. It’s a great read hat is even more impressive because it’s written in his signature style, simple and concise – even his letters, even in his confessions.
Hemingway’s writing advice: To get started, write one true sentence.
Dune – Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert s one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time. And Dune is one of the greatest science fiction novels. Book 1 in the Dune Chronicles series, it is a fantastically written Chosen One story on the surface. But, the genius is in the details. Herbert writes about politics, sociology psychology, religion, and economics in a way that is understandable, humorous, dramatic, suspenseful, lyrical, and surprisingly useful. He is one of the greatest writers I have ever read. I return to Dune almost every year with anticipation and a touch of awe at how good a writer can be and how high we can reach.
Frank Herbert’s writing advice: A writer’s job is to do whatever is necessary to make the reader want to read the next line.
The Lords of Discipline – Pat Conroy
One of the best writers. The first chapter of this novel is outstanding, the most moving, engaging beginnings I have ever read. It’s too long to quote here but it’s well worth your time to experience. Pat Conroy wrote The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini and he is just magical. Great writer. Great storyteller. Passionate, poetic, gifted, and haunted.
Conroy’s writing advice: Go deeper. That is my advice to all writers. Then go deeper again.