The Art of Writing

A Writers Retreat in Tuscany

Compelled to write, a book list to help you keep going

252dcaec261ad561eb2853ab84309928A writer this week told me ‘I write because I am not happy when I am not writing.’ They were magical words and just what I needed to hear as I struggle with self-sabotaging thoughts of why do I bother? Or Will anybody ever want to read this? Confidence, even though I’ve published four books and am working on my fifth, is not my strength. However, reading books on writing always boosts my self-esteem. There’s something about writing books that makes me feel more self-assured, secure, as though I am on the right track. Reading books on writing keeps me buoyant, inspired – stronger in my faith in myself.

 As Ray Bradbury said, YOU FAIL ONLY IF YOU STOP WRITING.

 Here is a list of some favourite books on writing.

1. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field

Although Field’s expertise is for screenplays and film, his book is a great, succinct resource on creating stories that resonate with readers (or viewers, as his case may be).

2. On Writing by Stephen Kingfd138d96686b43696bfc9b4843c66d7f

A powerful memoir by a powerful writer, with insight into the writing life and King’s own wisdom learned from years of experience as one of the most prolific writers of our time.

3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

One of my favourite books for offering insight and encouragement to all writers. It’s my go-to book when I need to remember that all books are written word by word.

4. The 90-Day Rewrite: The Process of Revision by Alan Watt

An insight look into the rewrite process, with a fresh look at character arc. Alan Watt suggests we look at our stories in terms of dilemmas, rather than problems.

5. Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence

A refreshing look at the power of storytelling and how to utilise it in our novels.

2bb8b3d5e621c9d31779a746b87fd56c6. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

A must-read for all writers on the basics of crafting powerful prose that communicates clearly to our readers.

7. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby

Another book on screenplay writing that can be applied to all genres of fiction writing. Truby’s The Anatomy of Story offers a detailed, step-by-step approach  to creating organic stories.

8. The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass

Don’t be intimidated by the title; Maass’ book is anything but a recommendation to abandon our passions and pursue market interests. As a leading agent, he gives the scoop on how to give our stories breakout-level potential.

9. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Although this book is billed as “the classic guide to writing nonfiction,” it’s an utterly astounding reference for all writers. Whether we’re writing nonfiction or fiction, we must learn to write clearly so that our readers can get the full experience of our stories.

10. Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro

Still Writing is a joyously heartfelt look at the exhilarating and challenging process of storytelling. Witty and practical, this book is both a memoir and a meditation on the artistic process. Offering wisdom, advice on craft, and inspiration, Still Writing is the perfect companion to the writer and artist.

clifford3

11 Comments

  1. Hi Lisa,
    So love this article! To think you still lack confidence after four published books! You deserve to allow yourself to KNOW you will write well and engagingly….it’s in your DNA by now ☺

    Like you, I derive encouragement, guidance and confidence from books on writing. Maybe because writing is such a private adventure, we writers are more vulnerable, less public? I know I have an unspoken comfort and trust with a small group of writers and this is magical. When we share our life notes on the writers’ life it is like reading books on writing.

    Another one to add your wonderful list above is: Dani Shapiro’s “Still Writing”.

    Thank you for the article!

    • mm
      Lisa Clifford

      14 March, 2016 at 11:57 am

      Oh thanks so much Wende!
      I will add it to the list. I’ve also created a list on the Art of Writing page so that we can keep adding to it as more suggestions come along.
      Yes, writing and the writer’s life is so private and full of solitude, but I think I will spend a lifetime trying to gain more. Never feel that I know enough. Will we ever know enough about writing?
      Take care and see you soon!
      Lisa

  2. Good to hear that you still have doubts even tho YOU ARE ALREADY successful !
    We so often doubt ourselves and think “who cares what I have to say, or who am I that any one will bother to read my words” but we all have a story and something worth telling.
    I am NOT successful but have started to write my story and hope that I can continue and not give in to those little voices of doubt. When I write I find joy. Maybe that’s enough too.
    Thanks for sharing

    • mm
      Lisa Clifford

      14 March, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      Yes, Steph, that is more than enough,
      joy is hard to find nowadays and I know what you mean. Writing gives me joy too.
      All I can say is continue to tell your story as no-one has your voice. It is unique. I hope to read it one day!
      In the meantime, I think it’s abundantly plenty to gain peace and harmony and joy from quietly putting our thoughts down.
      Sending you my best from Florence,
      Lisa

  3. Hi again,
    Appreciate your post, Steph! It is that joy that keeps many of us writing! Thank you for saying that. It can be “enough!” And maybe focusing on that joy can hold the questioning voices at bay?

    This morning I wondered how someone like you, Lisa, who has had the success of writing compelling stories, battles with confidence. It occurred to me that perhaps sometimes there is a fine line between lack of confidence and humility…..the humble desire to do a great job communicating something important that will be meaningful to others. ??????

    Cheers! W

    • mm
      Lisa Clifford

      14 March, 2016 at 12:04 pm

      Thanks for your further thoughts Wende,
      I think my lack of confidence has a lot to do with being a mum, a woman, a wife – all normal every day things that have to be done and fighting like mad to write. Even though I have publishers ready to read my work I think my lack of confidence echoes what ‘Lean In’ author Cheryl Thingie (cannot remember her name) said about women. We always undervalue what we do. But we keep doing our best,
      All good things to you both, Steph and Wende from Florence,
      lisa

  4. Hi all, love the comments and conversation. Thank you for that list Lisa, I will definitely refer to it and refer it on. It is so helpful to learn from writers who are further down the track. It is encouraging to me too, to know you doubt yourself (but sorry for you that you do) and makes me realise it is something, along with the loneliness, that as a writer we must all learn to manage and accept. Luckily our self doubt has nothing to do with whether people like our stories or not. Sometimes i think that is why…… thanks for sharing. bronte

    • mm
      Lisa Clifford

      19 March, 2016 at 11:07 am

      Hello, Bronte,
      Thank you for reading and taking the time to respond.
      I also don’t think the self-doubt every really goes away, but reading books on the craft really help me feel more confident and inspire me to keep growing as a writer.
      Self-doubt and loneliness are absolutely things that we must learn to work with. Unfortunately I think the self-doubt has much to do with being a woman writer. Luckily it’s something that we can manage and use to fuel our stories.
      All the best and keep writing,
      Lisa

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  5. Thanks for the booklist Lisa – will have to put some of those on my Amazon wishlist so that I remember to get them and dig in for inspiration.

    Keeping focussed and on track isn’t always as easy as I’d like – writing can definitely be a bit lonely at times even though the finished article can bring joy to so many people we’ve never met.

    Building up a mental picture of your readers can help “see” them read the books we create, laugh along with us and feel the other emotions that books can evoke.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Trevor!
      Writing IS lonely – though I kind of like that and the older I get the more I appreciate the quiet, the peace. I don’t search out noises or crowds.
      Still… being constantly alone can be depressing. So I feel writers have to get to know their triggers. Know when the blues are coming on, know when to read a book on writing, or join a writing group or grab a friend for a coffee. Even pop down to the pub.
      Hope all is going well for you Trevor,
      Lisa

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