How to be a Better Writer

Six Books on How to be a Better Writer

Want to know how to be a better writer?

Writers tend to read a lot. They read books, magazines, online articles, cereal boxes, ingredients lists, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Writers read about writing too. We like to delve into the world of our idols to learn their secrets and somehow absorb their genius into our own work. It helps.

Here are six books on how to be a better writer.

Six Books on How to be a Better Writer

How to be a Better Writer

Writing is hard.

How to be a Better Writer Book 01 :: Bird by Bird

Bird by Bird is a cheeky memoir-esque take on writing written by Anne Lamott. This delightful instruction manual of sorts can even be applied to life in general. What I like about Bird by Bird is that Anne Lamott tells it to you straight. She tells you not everyone has what it takes to be great, that writing takes a lot of work, and that “good writing is about telling the truth.” What makes something true may be more complicated than you think!

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” —Anne Lamott

How to be a Better Writer Book 02 :: Writing Down the Bones

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is my go to writing prompt bible. On many occasion, I’ve sat in a café with this lovely book and gotten lost in imaginary worlds by answering her creativity cues. This is a good resource for those of you looking for journaling ideas too.

How to be a Better Writer Book 03 :: Old Friend from Far Away

Another Natalie Goldberg book to help nudge your creativity is Old Friend from Far Away. This is another good resource for journaling as it focuses on initiating memoir writing. I find the writing prompts in Old Friend from Far Away to be more uncomfortable to delve into… in a good way.

How to be a Better Writer Book 04 :: Negotiating with the Dead

Margaret Atwood is an iconic Canadian author, and one of my earliest writing idols. She authored Negotiating with the Dead that answers the question “what do we mean when we say that someone is a writer?” This book on how to be a better writer is currently on my nightstand and reads like a memoir similar to Bird by Bird.

There are four ways of arranging literary worth and money: good books that make money; bad books that make money; good books that don’t make money; bad books that don’t make money. Those are the only four combinations. All are possible.” —Margaret Atwood

How to be a Better Writer Book 05 :: The Writing Life

If you want a quick read on how to be a better writer then grab a copy of Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. I think I read the 111 pages in a single sitting back in the day. It’s rich with wisdom for how to be a better writer and hard to put down.

How to be a Better Writer Book 06 :: The Artist’s Way

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is not about writing, but you can learn a lot about how to be a better writer by taking care of your sensitive inner artist. I’ve read through this self-help book several times and always learn something new about myself. If you’re feeling the ache of writers’ block, then dive into this one—or try these some of these writers’ block tips.

What are your favorite books on how to be a better writer?!

fiction vs nonfiction, where do they intersect

Fiction vs Nonfiction :: Where do they Intersect?

What’s the deal with fiction vs nonfiction? In technical terms, fiction is cultivated by the imagination and nonfiction is plucked from facts. Where the seeds of fiction can drop out of the sky or rise up from the earth or plop into our laps off the back of a buzzing bee, the seeds of nonfiction are blown in by the current of our experiences. And, that’s where things get interesting. I’ll tell you what I mean…

Fiction vs Nonfiction :: Where do they Intersect?

fiction vs nonfiction, where do they intersect

Fiction vs. Nonfiction 01 :: Memory is Unreliable

When you think of fiction vs nonfiction you have to consider that there’s a certain degree of imagination in the recounting of our lives. Can you truly rely on the accuracy of your memory? The way you remember an event or a scent can be entirely opposite to the way another remembers that exact same thing. We all have an inner compass that directs us through right and wrong, but the way we navigate between the two differs greatly not only from each other, but inwardly within ourselves from season to season. Truth is variable.

“A typical biography relying upon individuals’ notorious memories and the anecdotes they’ve invented contains a high degree of fiction, yet is considered ‘nonfiction.’” – Joyce Carol Oates

Fiction vs. Nonfiction 02 :: We Tell Our Emotional Truths

Think of fiction vs nonfiction as a sliding scale of truth. Where research and journalism are at one end, science fiction and fantasy are at the other. Fiction vs nonfiction meet in the middle, somewhere between memoir and literary fiction.

When we tell the stories of our lives through memoir we’re not just relating the provable facts, we’re articulating our emotional truths. Since when were all our emotions logical and verifiable? Sometimes to convey an important emotional truth we have to exaggerate the verifiable truth. That’s not to say that we’re lying, it’s to say that we’re highlighting the strongest, most important truth. Similarly, in the telling of literary fiction, we are telling a larger truth about the human experience, which brings me to my final point.

Fiction vs. Nonfiction 03 :: It’s all Based on the Human Experience

Everything we write is based on the human experience. Fiction vs nonfiction, it doesn’t matter, you can’t escape telling a broad human truth. Try, I dare you. Someone somewhere will find meaning in your work. So what does that mean for fiction vs nonfiction? It simply means there’s a bit of both in everything we write.

What do you think? Where does fiction vs nonfiction intersect?

inspiration for writing ideas

4 Daily Tasks that Invite Inspiration for Writing Ideas

Inspiration can hit at any time. Sometimes we search for it within books or faces or in the dust that collects on the windowsill. But other times, inspiration for writing ideas strikes in the midst of our daily tasks, like a flash of lightning in our brain that electrocutes creativity. Here are 4 daily tasks that invite inspiration for writing ideas.

4 Daily Tasks that Invite Inspiration for Writing Ideas

inspiration for writing ideas

Inspiration for Writing Ideas 01 :: The Commute

Why is it that inspiration for writing ideas seem to pop up when our hands are tied? The commute to your daily work is a fine example of such inconvenient, but inviting, inspiration. The familiarity to your route shifts you into autopilot leaving your mind free to wander. You can tune out or turn off the radio and let the characters play in your head. (You’re not crazy, you’re creative. I plomise!)

Inspiration for Writing Ideas 02 :: The Shower

Maybe it’s the comfortable heat, maybe it’s the cascade of cleansing water, but either way, the shower is a deep sea of inspiration for writing ideas. You’ll have to keep a pen + notebook within reach (+ maybe a towel) to catch the idea before it follows the flow down the drain. Also, be careful your imagination doesn’t take the time away, you don’t want to be late + waste too much precious water.

Inspiration for Writing Ideas 03 :: The Dishes

The daily task of washing dishes is another one of those necessities that leaves your mind free to wander. As such, this can be the perfect time to invite inspiration for writing ideas. As your hands take over in the bubbles, you can follow your imagination into the depths, take hold of that new writing idea and swim with it. Who cares about prune fingers? Amiright?

Inspiration for Writing Ideas 04 :: The Walk

If you’re feeling particularly stuck (or better, particularly creative) take a walk. Work up a bit of a sweat and get the juices flowing. Leave your iPod at home and keep company with your own thoughts. The action and relaxation of your body will squirt some well deserved inspiration for writing ideas.

Inspiration for Writing Ideas :: Bonus Tip

You can also take an active role with inviting inspiration for writing ideas. It’s so easy to get caught up in your daily dialogue of to do’s and to don’t’s, but if you actively contemplate inspiration for writing ideas, you open a floodgate for your creativity. In the car, ask yourself where your newest protagonist will go next. At the kitchen sink, decide where your story will be set. It’s all in there, you just have to listen!

Still feeling blocked? Check out my tips for overcoming writers’ block.

How to Overcome Writers' Block

How to Overcome Writers’ Block

How to Overcome Writers' Block

“Just write,” they say. “I don’t believe in writers’ block. It’s all in your head. Here’s a pen.”

I want to stick my tongue out at they. They doesn’t even know how it feels to have such genius ideas dancing a sexy tango in your head only to become floppy 1990’s boy band choreography on the page. Not only is it a total mess, it’s embarrassing.

It’s like one of those bad dreams where you show up to work in your underwear and everyone laughs, only it’s actually happening and you’re not caught in your underwear but a tacky neon leotard and everyone just stares uncomfortably because they can’t tell if you’re joking or not.

It’s not a joke.

So, writers’ block, instead of working her tacky neon leotard like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat, awkwardly sits at her computer fidgeting with her hair, shoveling snacks down her throat, and wiping away wet mascara running from the frustrated tears that pour out.

Never. Typing. A. Single. Word.

Maybe they has good advice after all. Just write.

Just write the cringe-worthy choreography, get it out of the way so you can smooth it into a sensual, heart-stopping tango. Wear that leotard like hot red lipstick.

I’m tellin’ ya, if you work it, those stares will be wrung with jealousy, because secretly, deep down, we all want the confidence to squirm in our most embarrassing indulgences. We fear our most intimate desires because they aren’t what we thought they would be, they aren’t what we were told they would be. They’re more like cheesy boy bands and bright, clingy spandex.

Trust me, once you’re done with it, people will want all your tacky like a popsicle in the summer sun, like beer by the barbecue, like kisses in the morning and cuddles at night.

I mean, you’re stuck in that damn leotard anyway, might as well make the best of it.

If that doesn’t work, just give up. Become a clown like all those high school career tests told you to. You’re half way there anyway, right?

Wrong. Big fat wrong.

If working it isn’t your style, chill out, there are a million ways to get out of your rut. I like to start with taking a break. Go for a run, walk through nature, meditate, make lunch or dinner or midnight snack, take a shower, call your mom and cry your poor little encumbered heart out. It’s okay. Everything is going to be okay.

Then, pour yourself a tall glass of malbec and sit back down to your notebook, or laptop or napkin, and write.

Just write.

Here are some writing prompts to get you started:

  1. I remember …
  2. The last time I …
  3. The more I think about ____ the more I wish …
  4. I wish …
  5. If I were …
  6. The colour ____ always reminds me of …
  7. My mom thinks I’m ____ but I’m really …