Geetanjali Mukherjee

Saturday, February 20, 2016

4 Books That Have Made Me A Better Writer

I was writing answers for yet another interview about my writing, and one of the questions made me think. I didn't think the short space within an interview gave me enough room to write in the detail I wanted, so I decided to write about it here.

The question: what books and authors have influenced your writing? Ok, so that's not exactly the question I am answering here. Because to tell you the truth, I think every book I have ever read has in some way influenced my writing. It is one of those osmosis-type things; you subliminally take in cues without even realizing you are doing it. There have been however, a few books, that have changed the way I write, or in some way influenced my writing, so profoundly, that I want to highlight them, hoping they can help someone else. Some of these books have been featured on my blog, so where they have, I have linked the title to the post in question.

This book is my writing bible. I keep going back to it whenever I start to feel the onset of the writer's version of impostor syndrome. Why did I think I could write? What if I have been deluding myself? What if this book is crap and no one reads it? What if this book is crap and people read it and then tell me that it is crap?

You know what I mean? The spool of fear and doubt whirling around in your brain. When that gets too loud and too paralyzing, I take out my copy of the book and start to page through it, and inevitably calm down. Julia's sage and simple advice never fails to restore me – the origin of your work is you. Therefore it is original. You have something to say, and therefore it is important that you say it. Everyone is creative if only we allow ourselves to be.

This book is full of timeless advice that can benefit any creative person (not just for writers) on any part of their creative trajectory, beginner or professional. 

A relatively recently published book, this book is bursting with compassionate guidance, and full of useful tricks for anyone stuck on a difficult project and wishing they could simply abandon it and run away. This happens to me so often, that I have almost memorized some of its passages.

Rettig advises writers to abandon any notion of starting at the beginning, and going straight on doggedly till the end. She gives you permission to start anywhere, stop, and move one elsewhere. Do what's easy. Uncomplicate your project. Make sure you have enough resources. Fortify yourself with snacks. That last one is mine, but I am sure she would approve. Do whatever you need to get through the project, and solve each problem one at a time, slowly, without pressure. Remember, you are taking on a tough project, and don't make it harder than it needs to be. 

This last one is not a writing book. But it is written by an incredible writer, who never fails to lift my spirits. Her characters are well-rounded and interesting, but in this collection of essays by Keyes, you get to peek behind the curtain and get to know the writer herself, who is far more interesting than her figments of imagination.

Keyes' light-hearted tone and easy turn of phrase inspires me to let my own personality through into my writing. When I get stressed about what to say, I become more stiff, and so does my prose, like my writing has put on a starched, tight shirt. Perhaps I am reminded of my English teachers in school, who were never happy unless we used the most bland language. Any flights of fancy were firmly curtailed, and I think the vestiges of their influence still live within my inner editor. Reading Keyes' sentences, full of words that I have never even encountered before and don't know the meaning of, shakes up my own vocabulary, giving it a little pep and lift. 

4. Developmental Editing - Scott Norton

I love this book, which I stumbled upon last year and have discussed elsewhere on this blog. The book is geared towards those actually working as DEs (developmental editors) in publishing, but it is invaluable insight for authors, especially for those writing non-fiction. There isn't much for non-fiction authors out there, so this book is great especially for that reason. Reading this book really helped me to create a much better structure for my most recent book Anyone Can Get An A+, as well as to generally understand how to think about structure, something I have always struggled with. I highly recommend it.

This is just a partial list, and as I think of more I will add to it. What are your favorite writing books, or what books have changed your writing for the better? I would love to hear your comments. 

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