. . . [W]riting is writing, not planning. The sooner you put words on paper, the happier you will be.
So says one of the great writers of our time, Jane Smiley, in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, a book she began after setting aside her own writing just after 9/11 when, she says, she experienced an uncharacteristic kind of discontent. Not writer’s block, per se, but she felt unsettled, uninspired. It was a symptom, she says, of not knowing what she was doing in the novel she was writing. So she closed the file on her computer, walked away and decided to read a hundred novels. This book, the fruit of that experience is so packed with wisdom and deep analysis of the novel that I turn to it regularly when I’m feeling unsettled or uninspired in my own writing, when I need a book recommendation or just a lift.
For me, reading about writing is a habit I began when I first started writing novels (about the same time Jane Smiley began reading those 100 novels). I cannot get enough books on writing – something that amuses my family, especially my daughters. When I tell them I’ve found a new book on writing they smile knowingly, or laugh out loud. But really, where else can we writers turn for help, if not to other writers? I love meeting with my writing group every Friday for a couple of hours to check in, get feedback and to feel connected in this very solitary field of endeavor. But that’s only once a week and I need more! So, with a shelf full of writing books at hand, words of encouragement from great writers are always available to me.
But reader be warned – this is not your ordinary book about writing. 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel is a 570 page tome which grapples with questions like: What is a novel? And, who is a novelist? There are chapters on the novel’s origins, psychology, morality, art, history and two chapters dedicated to writing and revising a novel of your own. To further explain her own novel writing process, Jane Smiley includes a “case history” of the novel she was writing and struggling with at the time. And then there are the essays/critical readings of the one hundred novels she read, from The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu, which takes place in 10th century Japan, to Look at Me by Jennifer Egan in 2001. Whew! It’s worth picking up this book just to flip through the reading list and find something good to read. Anyone who is an avid reader and writer will find this fascinating book on reading and writing novels well worth turning to time and again.
Instead of simply including a list of my favorite books on writing here, though, I’ll share them over time as I rediscover them in my own writing life and add them in increments. And, please, share your favorites with me – I always want more! Now stop reading this and go write because you know as well as Jane Smiley that the sooner you put words on paper, the happier you will be. And check out Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, you will find it jammed full of inspiration.