Books That Helped Me Start Writing

Being a writer was a childhood dream, along with becoming a nurse, a painter, and a concert pianist or violinist. But for years, I lacked the confidence not only to share my writing with others, but to even complete a piece. I started writing lots of things, but never finished anything except one story and some poems.


It was God who “tricked” me into writing. I was assigned to our video department, and I was asked to script some of our early video programs. I didn’t even think of it as writing, because I was given such tight constraints: short lengths, assigned topic or storyline, already designated visuals, the lack of any significant budget, etc. As the years passed, though, I realized that even if it was simple, I was really writing. Gradually, as the scripts needed more development, I started focusing on writing, and began to dream of writing dramatic scripts and books.


Because the cranky voice of self-doubt seemed the main deterrent to my writing, I learned to surround myself with encouraging voices: books that supported writing. Here are a few of the favorites that got me started writing and journaling on a regular basis:


Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. Lots of writers refer to this little classic, and I’ve shared it with others. Brande goes through the range of issues that a writer faces, always offering encouragement.


If You Want to Write by Brenda Uleland (check spelling). This book seemed to be a volume 2 of Brande’s Becoming a Writer, with a bit more fun. It inspired me personally to take my writing more seriously when I started writing my first book.


Room To Write by Bonni Goldberg. The best book of writing prompts and exercises I’ve ever seen or used.


Walking on Alligators: Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaughnessy. A book of short daily encouragements for beginning writers. I “gulped” down five or six pages at a time. Each day includes a suggestion for your writing, but I usually  just focused on the encouragement. (The only problem is that it looks like it might be out of print.)


And a book that I didn’t have, but wished I’d had after I read it:

Page After Page by Heather Sellers. An incredibly practical yet encouraging guide that is honest about the commitment that writing requires. Wonderful writing exercises to help you develop your own process and projects. It’s intended for beginning writers, but I enjoyed reading it last year, and found myself going back to a couple of chapters.


It’s interesting to me that all of these books are written by women. I’ve enjoyed many others, but these helped me most because they broadened my understanding of what it means to be a writer, and offered a lot of encouragement to develop one’s inner writing life. While each book addresses issues such as publishing one’s work, none of them advocated being published as the first or only goal. Writers write! is what I learned from these very diverse books. The writing life is a journey that goes beyond the writing of one individual project.


What I missed and continue to miss are books that explore how writing (or practicing our art) can be a spiritual path that leads us to a deeper self-knowledge and a deeper connection with God. Although all five of the above books acknowledge the importance of spirituality in human experience and in writing, none of them explicitly address the deep joy, hope, and meaningfulness that arises from doing what we are most meant to do. In my experience, writing can sometimes become a profound experience of God.


One thought on “Books That Helped Me Start Writing

  1. I’d also recommend Stephen King’s On Writing (I think that’s the title). More anecdotal than hands on advice, but I found it insightful.


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