[THE WRITER'S LIFE] Word by Word

Now that I’ve gotten my first book published, one of the questions I try to duck the most is, “Are you working on another book?” The last time I was asked this question, I did a quick inventory of my recent productivity and realized that the last thing I had written was literally one word in a Word document, which I then quickly saved and closed so I could get to the next thing on my to-do list. I answered honestly, “Yes. Word by word.”

Actually (and thanks for asking), I am working on two books. There is the second collection of essays I’m working on, and I am also putting together a book on co-parenting. Of course, I have not given up my day job as a supervised visitation coordinator and parenting course instructor--hence the parenting book--and marketing and promoting my first book take up much of my waking hours. Some of my non-waking hours, too, as I often jolt upright in the middle of the night remembering something I have either forgotten to do or need to remember to do the next day. Each month I get at least three blog posts published (including this one) and I am teaching a writing class for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the local UConn branch. 

I’m not complaining--I love all the things I do--but right now writing time is sandwiched in between my other tasks rather than leaping to the forefront and daring all my other commitments to interfere. 

My “word-by-word” response made me think of Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird. (I didn’t know then that she also has an audio book called “Word by Word.” I’ll have to get that, too.) I haven’t read Bird by Bird in a long time, but maybe it’s time I did. I tend to stay away from reading those books when I’m in the midst of a project.  You know which books I mean: the how-to-write books at which I usually turn up my nose because “real writers write.” But if I’m honest with myself, I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for the likes of Lamott, Goldberg, Barreca, Welty, and even Strunk and White, among others. Hell, I myself teach a class on writing, although I maintain I don’t teach so much as facilitate an environment in which writers are free to explore and get to know their own writing voice. Reading the “how-to” books is like going for continuing education credits in any other profession. Even attending a workshop or starting/joining a writers group are all good and true activities for writers to hone their craft and get some essential encouragement and inspiration. And I think I could probably use some of that right now.

The one-word document still sits in my Dropbox folder awaiting additional words. And I will get to them--right after I find my copy of Bird by Bird

What are some of your go-to writing books for inspiration or motivation? Share them here!

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  • Thanks for the invite. Congrats on the book.

  • diedre Knight

    I often refer to "Bird by Bird". Sometimes, simply for inspiration! Another one is "On Writing" by Stephen King. Cheers to your first publication! Isn't it a bit like having your child in his first recital? Such pride, such anxiety. Try not to sweat it, just reward yourself by writing a sentence or two of your second book for each first book sold!

  • Carole Avila

    I think it boils down to priorities. What is the most important thing to you? The truth is we make time for what is important to us.

    When Ray Bradbury signed my copy of Zen in the Art of Writing, I asked him what was the best advice he could give to a writer. He leaned forward and looked me in the eyes. "Write," he said.  If writing is your passion, you'll make time for it. It doesn't mean you have to carve out eight-hour blocks every day around children, work, and relationships, but give quality amount of time to your craft on a near daily basis. It may help to leave the distractions of a busy household and write at the park or in a coffee shop.

    I have two works published, another which will be released next year, am working on a non-fiction book that is under contract, and have three that are finished in draft form but need editing. I work part-time, on purpose to generate an income but to give me more time to write than I would get on full time work. I miss out on European vacations in favor or weekend excursions and drive a crummy old car, but that's where my priorities are at. I write at least six hours a day, and my daily mantra is "I am a international best-selling, financially successful author."

    I think once you are clear on how much your heart calls you to write and how much you're willing to dedicate to the process each day, oh--and get over people telling you that writing isn't a viable career, you will find your groove and devote accordingly to your craft.

    As far as Annie Lamott goes, the one thing she said at a workshop (and in her books) that helped me the most as a writer was, "It's okay to write a shitty first draft."

    Thank you, Cindy, for this opportunity for me to spout off!

    ~Carole Avila

    Eve's Amulet-Book 1

  • Frances A. Rove Writing

    Just found a book I love about creative blocks and other sorts of resistance.  The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  It is a short book, but very enlightening and inspiring. 

  • Kamy, it's a blessing and a curse :) Good luck! Mary, thanks for the new list! I've heard of Bradbury's but not the rest and I love the title, "A Word or Two Before You Go." Hopefully, I'll get more suggestions here and I can post an annotated list one of these days (weeks, months...). Thanks!

  • Mary Adler

    I have learned a lot from the books you list, Cindy.

    Two of my inspirational books are Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing,  and Sol Stein's Stein on Writing. They help me remember the reader. I also like to carry a book along when going on appointments, or when having lunch by myself at our local cafe. I read somewhat randomly for inspiration and for immersion in beautiful writing, in itself inspiring. Here are three: Jacques Barzun, A Word or Two Before You Go, Robertson Davies, A Voice from the Attic, and Jane Smiley, 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel.

    I, too, am working on the next book. People who have read the first Oliver mystery want to know what happens to the characters next and when the second book will be out. I tell them maybe two years and they look disappointed. They have no idea how long it took to produce the book that they are able to read in a few days. J

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    I am so worried about this Cindy--I am eager to start the next thing but am so consumed with promoting the novel. But I LOVE Bird by Bird. Maybe I ought to pick it up asap, too. :)