“So, how many of these will you ever actually read again?” my husband asked as he tripped over the stupidly huge piles of books obscuring the bedroom floor. Considering there were more than I could count, I opted to plead the fifth.
Like a lot of writers, I compulsively collect books – especially ones that promise to jumpstart my imagination, kill writers block and make me a genius storyteller. But given that I was about three paperbacks away from securing a starring role on Hoarders, I reluctantly decided to whittle down my literary stash. But the upside of this purging of the pages was that I rediscovered several gems that I (and maybe you) can’t live without. Not only did they shape my outlook on writing, story craft and creativity from the first reading, they have drawn me back time and again whenever I need a shot of inspiration or education.
May I present to you (in no particular order) my Fab Five:
Wired for Story by Lisa Cron – It’s no secret that everyone loves a great tale. But it turns out that there is far more to it that just seeking entertainment and escape. Our brains are literally hardwired to become immersed in story, and have been since our Stone Age ancestors first sat around bragging about hunting wooly mammoths. Cron does a masterful job of explaining the neuroscience behind this theory, but more importantly she reveals what the brain craves from every tale it encounters and how you can use these secrets to hook your reader from page one.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – Being that TAW has been a bestseller for over 20 years, I’m obviously not the only one who feels this is the ultimate guide to living the creative life. Cameron offers plenty of great insights and exercises, but her two main tenets are Morning Pages (three pages of handwritten free writing done first thing every morning) and Artist Dates (a weekly date with yourself to do something fun and inspirational to recharge your creative batteries). When I keep up with those two simple practices, new story ideas, characters and serendipitous opportunities seem to pop out of nowhere. When I fall off the map with them? Ouch.
Story Engineering by Larry Brooks – Whether you’ve been struggling with your novel or haven’t even started because you have no earthly clue where to begin, this book is for you. A former screenwriter and current bestselling author, Brooks teaches what he calls “The 6 Core Competencies of Writing”, and that structure and planning are just as important as artistry when it comes to telling a compelling story. Following any sort of formula may seem like a recipe for sucking the spontaneity right out of your writing process, but it actually has the opposite effect. When you develop a roadmap for your story, you still have the freedom to take detours along the way since you know exactly where you’re going to end up. Try it. You’ll like it.
The Writing Warrior by Laraine Herring – This book came into my life when I was introduced to the author by a mutual friend. And it was a timely meeting, because I had been feeling like anything but a “warrior” when it came to my writing. I was sidetracked by fear, distractions and constantly comparing myself to anyone that I viewed as more successful than me (read: everyone on the planet). But as I dove into the book with a doubtful chip on my shoulder, I soon realized that Herring knew a thing or two about shattering illusions and self judgment and gently rebuilding the spirit that made you want to write in the first place. She also teaches a simple 3 part practice that uses breath and physical movement coupled with free writing to help dissolve blocks and open the creative floodgates. And much like the Morning Pages, the rewards far exceed the short amount of time you spend on the practice (about 15 minutes total). Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field – If you’ve ever wanted to write a screenplay – honestly – this is the only book you’ll ever need. Until his death last year, Field spent over 50 years writing about and teaching screenwriting, and has been credited with virtually inventing the three act paradigm that is the standard for feature films. Aside from walking you step by step through the process of constructing your script, Field offers advice on everything from collaboration and adapting a novel for the screen to marketing the final product. He also includes excerpts from classic films such as Chinatown to illustrate elements like scene development and setup. No surprise, Screenplay has been translated into 16 languages and used as a textbook in more than 250 colleges across the country (which is where I first discovered it).
So, if you’ve got space on your shelves, I invite you to make one or more of these amazing reads part of your collection. Or better yet, get them all on your Kindle. It’ll make it a lot harder for people to accuse you of being a hoarder.