When it comes to books on creative writing, three inspirational examples stand out: Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.
Although those books are by no means new (The Artist’s Way was first published in 1992, Bird by Bird in 1994 and Writing Down the Bones in 1986), they’re still helping writers today. Just recently, a student of mine mentioned that Bird by Bird helps him deal with the anxiety that can be brought on by writing.
Each of the books is different yet the same. The Artist’s Way is formatted like a work book. Bird by Bird is part memoir, part writing tips. Writing Down the Bones includes writing prompts. All of them focus on the psychological and emotional aspects of writing rather than on craft. All leave the reader knowing it’s possible and normal and worthwhile to write.
The Artist’s Way, first self-published as Healing the Writer Within by Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan, is a work book meant to be completed in twelve weeks. Designed not just for writers but for anyone who wants to unleash their creativity, the book reveals Cameron’s belief that expressing one’s creativity connects us to the divine in each of us. Whether or not you agree with Cameron’s spiritual beliefs, her book presents two writing tools worth trying:
- Morning pages: Three pages of longhand, free-association writing. The purpose is to focus on the process rather than on the product of writing and to establish a writing habit.
- The artist date: An appointment you make with yourself to spend time alone doing something nurturing, whether it’s a walk in a park or a trip to a craft store. The artist’s date will make it easier to make creativity a priority in your life.
The rest of the chapters in The Artist’s Way explain how to overcome limiting emotions such as fear and jealousy.
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird reveals her trademark honesty and quickness. She’s known for explaining the importance of writing the “shitty first draft” and for encouraging writers to break large projects into small pieces, what she refers to as writing “bird by bird.”
In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg uses a Zen-like approach. She encourages writers to practice their writing and to remember the importance of details. She suggests trying timed writings. The rules of timed writing are to keep your hand moving; don’t cross out; don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar; lose control; don’t think; don’t get logical and go for the jugular.