I came to writing relatively late in life. I was in my twenties before I even dared articulate to myself that was what my dream was. I sat on my bed looking at a clapped out old electric typewriter on the other side of the room and feeling this huge space between me and it. It seemed impossible. The only thing occupying the space at that time was my longing to be a writer.
But how to begin?
In the end I did three things:
1. I did a writing course taught by Sahera Chohan* and Nigel Watts;
2. I did The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron with my friend, Francesca Howard*;
3. I began to read books on writing and creativity in general.
* See my blog roll for their inspiring blogs.
The first book I read was Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Still one of my favourites. It was Francesca who suggested doing The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She wanted to become a painter and I wanted to become a writer and she suggested we do the course together and talk on the phone weekly about how we’d got on. Without those weekly telephone calls I’m not sure I would have finished it. As I remember it, I was appalled at Week Four, the reading deprivation week, and extremely stroppy when it came to collages (which I loved doing when I got down to it) but at the end of it the seeds of hope and possibility were planted in me.
I have read many other books over the years and I’ll give a list at the end of my favourites but one which I’m reading now and absolutely love is by Anne Bogart: A Director Prepares. Seven Essays on Art and Theatre. These are her chapter headings: Memory; Violence; Eroticism; Terror; Stereotype; Embarrassment; Resistance. It’s a brilliant inspiring book and I can’t recommend it highly enough. She uses examples from the world of theatre, painting, dance and literature.
Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:
‘The saving grace in one’s work is love, trust and a sense of humour.’
‘Every creative act involves a leap into the void.’
Here she is on resistance:
‘Laziness and impatience are constant internal resistances and they are very personal. We are all lazy. We are all impatient. Neither are evil qualities; rather they are issues that we learn to handle properly…. Attitude is key. Naming something a problem engenders the wrong relationship to it… Try not to think of anything as a problem. Start with a forgiving attitude to laziness and impatience and cultivate a sense of humour about them both. And then trick them.’
To find out how to trick them buy the book!
When I look back, books played a crucial role in leading me across that room towards the typewriter, towards the moment when I put my hands on the keyboard and began to write. They play a crucial role in keeping me there. I continue to buy these books (71 and counting!) and I continue to explore the whole subject of creativity. I find it endlessly fascinating.
The questions I’m looking to have answered are how do other people do it – create? How do dancers dance, painters paint, actors act, writers write, singers sing, directors direct. How do they persist? How do they deal with setbacks? What can I learn from them?
Here, in no particular order, are twenty of my favourite books on writing and creativity.
1.Negotiating with the Dead – Margaret Atwood
2.Teach yourself Writing a Novel – Nigel Watts
3.The Courage to Write – Ralph Keyes
4.The Writer’s Book of Hope – Ralph Keyes
5.Writing Down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg
6.Wild Mind – Natalie Goldberg
7.The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
8.The Right to Write – Julia Cameron
9.On Writing – Stephen King
10.Becoming a Writer – Dorothea Brande
11.Writing for your Life – Deena Metzger
12. The Poetics of Space – Gaston Bachelard
13. The Paris Review Interviews – all volumes
14. The Master and his Emissary – Ian McGilchrist
15. The Gift – Lewis Hyde
16. Which Lie Did I Tell? – William Goldman
17. One Continuous Mistake – Gail Sher
18. Walking With Alligators – Susan Shaughnessy
19. If You Want To Write – Brenda Ueland
20. A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre – Anne Bogart
There’s also a book coming out in February 2015 called The Art of Creative Thinking written by Rod Judkins, a lecturer at St Martin’s School of Art, which looks very interesting.
Do you have a book which had a big effect on your creative process? Are there any books you would recommend? What do you think of my list?