Guzzling the Writer’s Kool-Aid

To improve as a writer, you must do three things each day: listen, read and write. It helps if you’ve lived a good bit and perhaps suffered along with it, but there’s really no equal to listening closely each day to interior and exterior dialogue, reading good writers and knowing how to identify the difference between good writing and bad, and most important of all, writing it all down … for better or worse. After all, if you do not possess an insatiable appetite to write, to scream eloquently, and to leak ink involuntarily, then really you should take up a new vocation.

Here, in no particular order, are 10 books in my private library that help me understand what a small, literary publishing house needs to find in the works of prospective authors. These 10 books embody the Atticus mission of discovering authors whose voices become legend. I intentionally have linked the titles to the indiebound Web site to encourage you to purchase them at an independent bookstore (and, just to be clear, that means to NOT buy these books at Barnes&Noble, Borders or Amazon).

1. Mary Pipher’s transformative book, Writing to Change the World

2. Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, is a tremendous inspiration, as are many of her writings.

3. Stephen King, the first author to connect with my adolescent inner voice, also speaks volumes with On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft, his relatively slim but helpful take on being, becoming and even behaving (like) a writer.

4. Annie Dillard is another author I would recommend reading frequently for writers who need a dose of genius. Her book, The Writing Life, gets to the heart of the literary matter in no uncertain terms.

5. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

6. Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers

7. Henry Miller on Writing

8. Norman Mailer’s The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing

9. Susan Shaughnessy’s Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers

10. Letters to a Fiction Writer, edited by Frederick Busch, with letters by Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, Flannery O’Connor and John Gardner, among many others.

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