We are all writers. Think about it. How many of us can get through a day without sending an email, posting on Facebook or writing a short piece of online content? Where can bloggers and writers go to find advice that will help us create our content in ways that keep our readers coming back for more?
Now there are many excellent books out there to help you master the basics of usage, composition and form. Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (I got a personalized copy of this from the team of writers I managed way back in 1989) has become my yellowed, earmarked Bible.
Coming in a close second, On Writing Well by William Zinser nails the elements of clean, compelling prose.
Reading fiction can help you forge better writing skills, too. But today I want to share with you a few books that pushed me along in my journey to become a better blogger and writer.
We can mine these books for what they can teach us about writing in the precise spot we are in now: on our blogs, on our websites and beyond. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try your hand at writing poetry or short stories. But even if you have no desire to do that, you’ll find help and encouragement in these books, in your quest to be a better writer, a better content creator.
The best books, the ones I love the most, give me instructions on reading and life. There may be newer books out there, but, frankly, I haven’t found any better. So without further ado, here are five books that shaped me and greatly influenced my writing.
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
The more clearly you know the editor, the better you can ignore it. After a while, like the jabbering of an old drunk fool, it becomes prattle in the background.” – Natalie Goldberg
When I first started writing, I was a mess. I noodled with every freaking word. It was like Mrs. Brumbley, my fourth grade teacher, had come back from the grave (okay, I don’t really know if she’s dead, but she must be by now).
The afternoon of the first day of fourth grade, I plunked my lunchpail down on the kitchen counter and announced to Mama that Mrs. Brumbley was fat, at which time she corrected me.
“We don’t say fat,” Mama said. “It’s more polite to say ‘big-boned.’”
Big-boned Mrs. Brumbley would stand behind me, adjusting her glasses, clearing her throat with that gross “aug-g-g-h” sound she made. She ripped apart my summer vacation essay with angry, blood-red pencil marks. She said nothing about the poem I had written, except to criticize my loopy letters and point out the y’s that didn’t hit the line quite right.
Mrs. Brumbley is exactly who you do not need when you are writing your blog post.
Lesson for bloggers: First, identify your worst critic. Give them a name and face. Maybe it was a teacher, maybe it is your grammar freak of a boss—or someone else who likes to mark up every sentence you write. Make a stick-figure drawing of this person. Crumple the paper up and toss it in the garbage can. Do this every time you sit down to write if you have to.
Okay, since Goldberg’s book is so chock full of sound advice, I’m going to drop a second quote here:
We want honest support and encouragement. When we receive it, we don’t believe it, but we are quick to accept criticism to reinforce our deepest beliefs that, in truth, we are no good and not really writers.”
This is all about believing in ourselves and our abilities. Goldberg went on to say that her ex-husband used to say to her, “You look ugly. Ah, now that I have your attention…” She said that when he complimented her, she never heard him, but as soon as he said something negative, she perked right up. Does this sound like you? I know it does me.
How it applies to blogging: We can get 20 nice, positive comments, but that one reader who has a problem with our post, to the point of being disagreeable? We obsess over it.
Don’t. Focus on the good you have done with your post and how many people you have helped.
There are many more words of wisdom in Goldberg’s excellent book. If you haven’t read it, and you need some inspiration in your writing, I highly recommend it.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamotte
Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind get recycled back and forth across the universe. But what you have to offer is your own sensibility, maybe your own sense of humor or insider pathos or meaning. All of us can sing the same song and there will still be four billion different renditions.” – Anne Lamotte
Lamotte gently reminds us here that there are no new ideas, only new spins on old ideas. Her entire book is full of wisdom and insight into the writing process.
How it applies to blogging: It helps in our blogging to know that we don’t have to sweat over that totally unique piece. We can just take an existing topic, shake it up, and put our own personal stamp on it.
The Art and Craft of Fiction by Victoria Mixon
Writing is not about fooling your reader. Writing is about sharing everything you know. Writing is as close as you can get to sitting at the kitchen table with your reader, taking their hands, and saying in the nakedness of your soul, ‘This is how life is for me.’” – Victoria Mixon
Okay. You are probably wondering why a book for fiction writers is on this list. But if we believe that our blog posts are like a good story (and I do), we can learn a lot about improving them if we look at the storytelling structure.
This book taught me how to think about telling stories on my blog in ways that hold my readers’ interest and educate while entertaining them at the same time. Mixon also gives us gems on improving our copy with solid advice on grammar, punctuation, and editing.
How it applies to blogging: Consider trying your hand at storytelling on your blog. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.
On Writing by Stephen King
Now this may sound strange coming from one of the most prolific fiction writers of our generation. After all, Stephen King has spent his life making things up. Where does he get off in this book telling us to tell the truth?
I think what he is saying here is, we need to find what the truth is for us and somehow convey that to our readers. In the words of the Native American storyteller, “I don’t know if this really happened but I know it is true.”
How it applies to blogging: In our blog posts, we can tell stories or write an opinion piece, but those stories must have a point and they must reflect the truth as we see it.
Writing Past Dark by Bonnie Friedman
Friedman’s book is all about the obstacles we face in our writing: distractions, envy, guilt, writer’s block, she goes through them all.
Now you may be past this point in your writing, but this is a book I turn to again and again. It’s all about the emotional life of the writer. Whether you are dabbling in fiction or you just need a little encouragement in your personal writing journey, I think you’ll like this book.
How it applies to blogging: We all have terrors about the creative process. Recognizing them is half the battle.
There you have it. One person’s take on some the the best books on the craft of writing.
An audio option for this post.