How many books on writing are too many?

I cannot remember a time in my life when I didn’t have a fortress of books. It has only been through a gradual embrace of the electronic age that I have stopped leaving home without at least one book. What if I was stuck somewhere for more than a minute without something to read? Unthinkable. It is a relief now to carry a stack of them on my phone.

Lately I’ve been doing a half-hearted tidy of my books. They are sprinkled throughout most rooms with elaborate stacks on the shelves of a hallway mirror, and the coffee table needs a regular decluttering as it is the first point of call for all new books. But the piles are getting unwieldy and some sorting is now overdue.

I did go through a phase when I stopped buying books on writing as bookshelves were already groaning under the weight of various tomes. But a few crept in, then a couple more, and it’s time to revisit and see if there are any that aren’t earning their keep.

The reference books are non-negotiable. There are several dictionaries and thesauruses, including a centenary edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary as there are times when I want to look up an older meaning of a word. There are style manuals, dictionaries of phrase and fable, and books on reading like a writer. I have a couple of editions of Pears Cyclopaedia – one old one new – again for the contrast in words and life in general over time. There are books on writing mysteries as I love to read them and have started a novel on this genre, as well as books containing a plethora of writing prompts.

So far all I’ve managed to do is shuffle spaces and create enough room to accommodate my existing collection, spread across several shelves, as there isn’t anything I’m prepared to cast aside as yet. They contain a wealth of knowledge and conflicting viewpoints and often contradictory information but there is a comfort in knowing they are there. If I had to choose five to keep, the current winners would be:

1. Macquarie Dictionary, concise edition. I love the mix of dictionary entries and encyclopedic information touching on Australian life.

2. Macquarie Thesaurus, also concise. I do prefer to have a couple of backup thesauruses though, as I often know what I’m looking for and won’t stop until I find the word that is taunting me from the sidelines of my vocabulary.

3. A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. The joyful mix of daily writing prompts, tips on writing and general guidance on how to have a more creative and fulfilling life.

4. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The ritual of the daily pages has been an important aspect of creativity for me in recent years, but the book covers so much more than that. I revisit the exercises from time to time to see how I’m travelling in a creative sense.

5. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. The encouragement to write past the initial barricade of self-criticism and doubt has stayed with me, years after reading this book. When I start a new project, sometimes it is only Natalie’s voice encouraging me to write through the dross that helps me get to the glimmers of gold. And I’m not hearing things – the book is also available in an audio version.

What books encourage your creativity?

[Photo: apples ripe for picking]

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15 thoughts on “How many books on writing are too many?

  1. For me, Stephen King’s On Writing was the one that kickstarted it all… And every once and again when I need a little something to push me forward again, I take it out and re-read it.

  2. so glad to know I’m not the only one who simply cannot leave the house unaccompanied by some form of reading matter which will , of course solve or at least make more bearable all matters of unforeseen ‘stuckness’ 😉

  3. Surprisingly, Stephen King’s “On Writing” is the one that has helped me the most. I’m surprised, because I’m not a particular fan of Stephen King’s other books (which is purely a matter of personal taste on my part), but I found his description of the wiring life and his advice on writing to be very, very helpful.

    • Thanks Ann, and I felt rather the same when I read it. I had read his books as a teenager (many moons ago) and whilst I admired his ongoing output and success, they aren’t the kind of books I read now. But after hearing many recommendations for ‘On Writing’ I finally read it. There was so much wisdom within it that still I flick through it from time to time when I feel the need.

      • Me, too! I kept the book because it is still very useful. Just goes to show that we can get valuable insight even from people who are very different from us. I never would have thought I’d be turning to Stephen King for writing advice, and yet I do!

  4. Hello, Musings from the Mountains. You really made my day when I got notice of your inclusion of my book (A Writer’s Book of Days) in your list of five writing books you’d keep on your shelf. I’m honored to be included with some of the writers and books I so admire. Thank you so much. I’m delighted my book has served your writing and your writing life.

    • Hello Judy, and thank you for making my day! I remember with clarity the day that I came across your book whilst on holidays a few years ago. I started reading – and writing – straight away and it remains a favourite book which I always recommend when talking about writing books that motivate and inspire. You have had such a positive impact on my writing life from half a world away and I am most grateful for discovering your work. Thank you again.

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