I am often asked some variation of the “How do I get started as a writer?” question. Here’s the best answer I know, and it’s in three parts: 1) just start writing; 2) be willing to right crap [later edit: Ana points out that should be “be willing to write crap”—I think I just demonstrated the point!], and then edit and improve like crazy; and most of all 3) read.
You can’t write if you don’t read. Good writing = good reading. If you want to exhale, what comes first? (All together now: inhale!)
Someone (Jeremy Bergeron) just asked me what I’m reading at the moment, and what I recommend. Here goes:
Right now I’m reading The Age of Gold by H.W. Brands. I recently wrote an editorial on the California gold rush and the “American dream” mentality, and ran into this book while Googling the topic. It looked fascinating. I hit Amazon’s “One-Click” purchasing, and now I’m 418 pages in. What an amazing book! Extraordinary history of the California Gold Rush. Can’t put it down. I never knew this stuff!
Also reading Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox; I write about that one here. What an inspiring author! I love this guy. If you haven’t read his first memoir, Lucky Man (2002), you’re missing out.
Am about to read Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond, on recommendation of a friend (a waiter at my favorite local restaurant, named Steve [the waiter, not the restaurant]), and just started 10-10-10, by Suzy Welch (wife of GE’s Jack), because an author I’m working with says this is a good model for a book we’re writing together.
Just picked up City of Thieves by David Benioff, who wrote The 25th Hour (both novel and screenplay) — never read anything of his before, and I’m looking forward to it. And just picked up two books by Stephen King’s son Joe, writing under the pseudonym Joe Hill. (Late-night reading!) People think King is blood and guts: not so. (At least, not mostly.) Mostly, he’s vivid characters who come to life on the page.
Recently read (“recently” meaning last few years) and totally recommend:
- On Writing, Stephen King (every writer must read).
- John Adams, 1776, Truman and The Johnstown Flood, David McCullough.
- A Voyage Long and Strange, Tony Horwitz, wrote about it here.
- Devil in the White City, Isaac’s Storm, and Thunderstruck, Erik Larson.
- Hot, Flat and Crowded, and The World Is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman.
- The Given Day, Dennis Lehane (wrote about meeting him here). Also his Mystic River and the entire Patrick Kenzie series.
- Stardust, Coraline, Anasi Boys, Neverwhere, American Gods, The Day I Traded My Dad for a Goldfish, and The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is the bomb; if you’ve read nothing of his, at least read Stardust.
- East of Eden, John Steinbeck; epic, breathtaking.
- The American Trilogy: American Pastoral; I Married a Communist; and The Human Stain; also The Plot Against America, Philip Roth. Roth is work to read, but worth it.
- Odd Thomas, Dean Koontz. Oddly sweet and touching.
- A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving. This is the master’s masterpiece.
- Ghost Story, Peter Straub. The best of Straub (I’ve read it all).
- The Dark Tower series, Stephen King (his best work).
- Terrorist, John Updike; a great way to gain access to this recently-late master.
Also read (on my honeymoon, yet!) two classics I had never gotten round to, and am now so glad I did: Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Og Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World — two ends of a spectrum! Both absolutely stunning and well worth the read.