The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Lane Gwinn
The Times 

So, you want to start writing your memoirs or the next great novel?

Here are three of the best books to help you get started.


October 15, 2020

For over a quarter of a century, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Ann Lamont has inspired new writers with honest and down to earth advice, written with humor and experience. The title refers to advice Lamott’s father gave her brother, who was struggling with a school paper on birds. Just write one bird at a time, and don’t get overwhelmed.

“Thirty years ago, my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

Great advice; just start writing one experience, one relationship, or even only one moment at a time.

The other book I have in my desk drawer is Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg.

Goldberg writes with humor and practicality with more than a touch of Zen meditation. Don’t let the fact that she is a practicing Zen master put you off. Her approach helps the writer get into the moment, to keep writing and move forward.

Her suggestions include listening; the deeper you listen, the better you write, use verbs, they are the energy of your sentence, and write your first thoughts without cross-outs or self-criticizing.

I do not know anyone who has read this book and has not gotten something helpful or inspiring.

The third book is Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is an excellent book for writers and would-be writers who don’t necessarily want a point by point how-to book on writing. There is plenty of great advice and, best of all, his great personal, real-life lessons that will inspire you just to write, all in King’s voice.

Some of the horror King’s advice is to go with your gut, write all the time, switch up your adjectives, and stick to the point. Write from the heart, not from a manual on writing.


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