3 “Must Reads” for Every Writer

Helping people shape their book concepts, tell their story, and focus their message to the readers who need it most has proven to be a real source of joy for me. It’s been a pleasant collision of my experience teaching writing and my familiarity with imagining concepts and crafting them into publishable books.

My first book, The Mockingbird Parables, was published in 2010 by Tyndale. It was a tumultuous journey of fighting over permissions then being dropped my original publisher without warning, but it provided an education on the trials of book-publishing that few writers experience in an entire lifetime. My follow up, Holy Nomad was published by Abingdon Press in 2012, and my next project is on track for release in 2015.

Over the past five years, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and pastors who dream of (or are in the process of) writing their own book.

I ‘m no expert in authorship or book publishing or even the teaching of writing for that matter, but I’ve been on the journey and worked hard at each of those endeavors.  I’m always hungry to learn more about the discipline I love and the magic that it takes to land an established publisher in an increasingly tough market.

Here’s a quick list of three books about the craft that are essential to me (and much more important) seem to be staples in the diet of the successful writers that I admire:

On Writing by Stephen King

King’s book is part memoir and part instruction for aspiring novelists.  I first read it while teaching a “Stephen King” elective course and immediately began to use it in my creative writing classes. King’s autobiography reminds you that memorable stories are often born when the mundane and ordinary moments of life crash into the writer’s imagination… like the writing of the best-selling novel, Carrie.  King also provides advice on the writers “tool kit,” including some great advice on plot and character and building a paragraph!

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron, a teacher at heart, introduces a number of practices focused on “nurturing your artistic soul.” No matter your artistic endeavor, the practice of “morning pages,” is an invaluable discipline. The morning pages routine is stream of conscious writing that requires you to sit down first thing in the morning and simply write.  Some mornings the writing may be as mundane as observing your surroundings, at other times it can feel like you are vomiting your worst feelings on the page, but over time, the practice begins to take shape into something quite clear and focused and useful.  It is an unbelievable remedy for writers block.

The War of Art by Steven Press field

Pressfield is one of my favorite authors. It’s my go to book for inspiration.  It is a collection of short focused meditations, more on “calling” than on writing. I keep this quote on my desk: “Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

 Do it or don’t do it. 

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet. You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God. Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

See what I mean? Great stuff.

A successful writer told me matter-of-factly once, “There are only two camps: People who can write a sentence and the people who can’t. For those that can, it is all about putting in the work.”

For folks like you and me who are still trying to figure out which camp we are in… these three books are a pretty good resource.




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