3 Books to Help Unlock the Magic of Writing

Photo by Dennis J Coughlin

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All of our children have brought the same series of books home from school where the action revolves around the idea of a magic key.

At the start of each book, the key starts to glow and the children are whisked away on another magical adventure.

They get up to all sorts in whatever world they land in, whether it’s ancient Egypt or outer space. Then once they achieve some kind of objective the key glows once more and they are transported back to the safety of their home.

As writers, we are always looking for that magic key, aren’t we? A device that we can grab hold of as it takes us into a distant world that will unlock the mysteries of the craft.

If only.

Sadly, there is no magic key. In its place, we have the advice of other writers.

Writers who have struggled over the years and made it out the other side of their adventures, unscathed enough to share a form of their own magic.

Following is a list of the books that have helped me over the years.

Hold on and get ready to be inspired.

You Are a Writer

Jeff Goins’ book, You are a Writer, opened my eyes in a simple and clear way.

I followed Jeff’s advice and after finishing his book, I put it down and took out a pen. I opened my wallet and took out a crumpled receipt. On the back, I wrote, “I am a writer”. I put that little piece of paper back into my wallet where it remains today, as a reminder.

Here is Jeff explaining this idea in his own words:

One day, a friend asked me what my dream was, and I told him I didn’t have one. Which was exactly the wrong thing to say.

“That’s too bad,” he said, baiting me. “Because I would’ve said it was to be a writer. I guess I was wrong,” he shrugged and turned away.

I began to steam. Swallowing hard and working up the courage to speak, I finally uttered, “Well, I guess it is. I mean —I suppose I hope to maybe be a writer… someday.”

My friend looked at me without blinking and said, “Jeff, you don’t have to want to be a writer. You are a writer. You just need to write.”

This is such a brilliant way to look at the situation. You are a writer and all you need to do is just write.

Yes, it can be that simple if you want it to be.

In today’s world, we worry too much about getting permission to do most things. Forget that. Choose yourself.

Give yourself permission to try and also to fail; to go for it, fall down and get back up again.

I have found that adding writing into my life as a daily habit is the best and the only way to start. There is no reason to make it any more complicated.

Just write every single day.

If you want to practice alone for a bit, which is fair enough, I would recommend starting a personal journal. To get you started, here are 6 Tips to Get into the Journal Habit.

You are a Writer is also a stepping stone into all the other advice and guidance that Jeff continues to provide. I would recommend checking out his blog along with his podcast, which includes amazing guests like Emily P. Freeman and Steven Pressfield.

On Writing

Stephen King’s book, On Writing, is a classic in every sense of the word.

I first read On Writing about 15 years ago. Then there was a bit of a lull in my writing life and I just reread it couple months ago. I found it to be just as powerful the second time through.

To be honest, the advice Stephen King provides is so crystal clear that you could just read this one book on the craft of writing and ignore the rest.

The key here is that King is the real deal. If you want to know how to write, then look no further than the man that has, to date, published 54 novels. That alone is an incredible achievement and makes his advice more than worthy of your time and attention.

On Writing also includes classic quotes that are still shared across the world on a daily basis. Here are a few of my favourites to get you started:

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

“Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

Bird by Bird

Bird by Bird is not for the faint of heart. Anne Lamott breaks writing out of its mysterious shell and throws it all over the floor in all its guts and glory.

This book does not pull any punches.

In fact, there were parts of Bird by Bird that made me squirm. The emotions conveyed were so close to the bone that they were hard to read.

That’s life, though, isn’t it? Life is hard and uneasy to watch at times and so is writing. Especially if the goal of your writing is to tell the truth.

Anne comes out and admits the crazy thoughts that we all share as writers. She says the things that we all think and might not have the courage to admit.

One of the most memorable scenes is when Anne is describing how she had to deal with jealousy as a writer. One of her friends had started to achieve real success with her writing. Over the subsequent weeks, this friend would call her to tell her about her latest wonderful achievement.

Anne lost it.

She could no longer control her feelings of jealousy. In the end, she recognised the feelings, admitted they were real and then asked for some time off:

“The way I dance is by writing. So I wrote about trying to pay closer attention to the world, about taking things less seriously , moving more slowly, stepping outside more often. Eventually what I was writing got funnier and compassion broke through, for me and also for my writer friend. And at this point I told her, as kindly as possible, that I needed a sabbatical from our friendship. Life really is so short.”

Bird by Bird gives you the unedited version of the writing life that you need to hear.

The Key

I would recommend reading all of these books on the art of writing and taking notes along the way. Some of the tips in these books might work for you in practice and the rest you can safely ignore.

Read, get some inspiration and then get back to writing.

The magic is waiting.

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