Giftfilter: Book ideas for a hobbyist writer?
December 13, 2014 12:49 PM   Subscribe

I recently learned that my (retired) mom is interested in writing, and I would like to get her a book in support of this. Bird by Bird would have been perfect, but she's already read that one. Can you suggest other books have that same feel?

Specifically, I'm looking for something that's more inspirational than strictly instructional, although something with some writing prompts could work. My mom has talked about maybe taking a writing class, and I think she'd really enjoy one if she did, but I also think she's a bit intimidated by the prospect. I suspect that taking that first step and putting pen to paper is going to be the hardest thing for her, so I'd like to find something that is fun to read, communicates the enriching aspects of writing, and makes the reader feel like s/he could darned well give it a try themselves. I've considered books like Writing Down the Bones and On Writing, but I'm worried I might be missing some more recent or less well-known gems that could work here.

If you've been inspired by a book to finally sit down and start writing, what book was it?
posted by DingoMutt to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
My mum writes. She talks a lot about "On Writing" as being very full of wisdom and inspiration and rereads it often. I wouldn't dismiss it just because King is a big name.
posted by mymbleth at 1:11 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Natalie Goldberg's books Writing Down the Bones and especially Wild Mind are lovely.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:16 PM on December 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I own and love all the writing books mentioned so far (except for Wild Mind, now on my list) and many more.

But the one writing book on my whole writing-book shelf that actually gets me to sit down and put words on a page when I haven't got a clue what I am doing is: The Writing Book - workbook for fiction writers by novelist and Booker Prize shortlisted Kate Grenville.
This is a practical workbook that guides writers, step-by-step, toward completing a work of fiction. Free of generalizing platitudes, it instead focuses on the specifics of craft: from getting started, discovering characters, writing dialogue and description, to evaluating the design of a draft, and of course revision. Exercises found in this book are actual techniques working writers rely on. They include speed writing, sorting and grouping, rewriting an incident in various styles, experimenting with tone, voice, syntax, and more. Designed to cover every stage of the process—from brainstorming an idea to the final draft—these practical suggestions help writers to liberate their creativity and to refine existing work. Excerpts from published authors are also included and help to illustrate the techniques taught.
It is inspirational in the sense that it guides and encourages the writer to actually write, without fear of failure, but does not prescribe what to do. This one is from 1990 and Grenville has since published two more books on writing - one very similarly named (updated perhaps?) called The Writing Book - a practical guide for fiction writers; and another called Writing from Start to Finish: A Six-Step Guide. I can't speak to either of these but Grenville is a prolific, talented and awarded fiction writer, and a teacher of writing for over 25yrs, so I assume they have merit.

Writers learn to write through writing. Any book that helps and encourages your mother to actually put words on paper will be a good gift.
posted by Kerasia at 2:31 PM on December 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland is just what you're looking for. Ignore the stupid subtitle they've given it nowadays—it's a gem.
posted by mynameisluka at 3:07 PM on December 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Someone recommended Turn Not Pale, Beloved Snail to me, but I haven't read it yet. Still, maybe someone here can chime in about or naysay it!
posted by pepper bird at 4:29 PM on December 13, 2014

I have written fiction for most of my life, and all of the books below have been helpful nudges at one point or another...

Goldberg's books are evergreen! Good idea, very inspirational.

Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing is Bradbury-y and wonderful.

Butler's From Where You Dream is another good 'un, particularly if your mom slants toward literary fiction in what she writes.

VanderMeer's Wonderbook is a new one that's good if she's at all inclined toward the fantastic.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:54 PM on December 13, 2014

If you want to go with writing prompts, Monica Wood has two wonderful books which I've made good use of: The Pocket Muse and The Pocket Muse 2.
posted by bryon at 6:26 PM on December 13, 2014

This is a bit of a different angle to your question, but the Write Brain Workbook was a GREAT way to get me started writing daily.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:03 PM on December 13, 2014

I have read Turn Not Pale, Beloved Snail--it was one of my favourite books when I was young--and I can back up pepper bird's recommendation of it. It is meant for young writers but I re-read it a couple of years ago and it was still lovely and inspirational. It's out of print but I got an exlibris copy for a very reasonable price.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:34 AM on December 14, 2014

Lynda Barry's What It Is is very good also. It's beautiful and unconventional, as one would expect from LB.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:44 AM on December 14, 2014

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:05 AM on December 14, 2014

Response by poster: Wow, thanks so much for all the helpful suggestions! I think I may have a chance to get out to a brick-and-mortar bookstore tonight, so I'm going to bring this list with me and check out as many of these books as I can in person - right now I think I'm leaning towards If You Want to Write and The Writing Book (actually, I might get myself a copy of the latter, too), but there are so many awesome-sounding options here and I'd be excited to gift my mom with any of these. I'll update once I've made up my mind, but again, thanks for all of your wonderful ideas!
posted by DingoMutt at 11:38 AM on December 15, 2014

Response by poster: Okay, so my trip to the bookstore never quite manifested. I've gone through all of these books again, and after reading the reviews, descriptions, and doing the 'Look Inside' thing on Amazon where possible, I ended up choosing If You Want to Write. That one sounded like it best hit on what I was looking for - something to help overcome the self-doubt that might keep my mom from ever taking a chance on a writing class or otherwise giving it a serious go. If she does get more into writing I think I'll send her a link to this question, though, because there are so many other books here that I think she'd enjoy.

Once I get back from the holidays I'll be treating myself to The Writing Book, so I've marked Kerasia's response as a best answer too. Again, though, ALL of these answers are helpful and much appreciated - thanks for your suggestions!
posted by DingoMutt at 9:21 AM on December 17, 2014

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