Books to Inspire the Writer

By Ashley, age 24, Massachusetts
Sweet Designs Staff Intern

Trust yourself. The guidelines laid out in both Annie Dillard's The Writing Life and Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones can essentially be summarized in these two words. One does not need Buddha, or Tantric yoga, or Jesus, or a parrot on his or her shoulder, or even a B.A. in English from an Ivy League school under the mentorship of a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor. If a person has the instinct to write, she should simply do just that, and have confidence in her own style and abilities.

Annie Dillard's memoir The Writing Life is not so much a guidebook, but rather a scattered series of metaphors with a few useful morsels of advice baked into an overly decadent pie. Dillard uses many, many metaphors to illustrate her writing style; however, by the time that the reader fully understands the depth of her imagery, it feels like an opportunity lost that could have been spent more productively working on one's novel rather than deciphering the meaning of the author's far-reaching metaphors. She does provide some worthy advice, such as showcasing various brief examples of the process endured by other famous writers, but the reader must weed through a garden of flowery language in order to reach it.

Dillard at once seems to be paraphrasing the Transcendentalist writings of Thoreau and Emerson through such offerings as "Aim for the chopping block," which appears to be a sly rephrasing of Emerson's "You must aim above the mark to hit the mark." However, she also paradoxically advises in an almost doctrinal manner (in the style of a true literary critic) how a writer must avoid aesthetically "appealing" workplaces and borrow from former successful literary models. This advice contradicts the theme of trusting one's instincts with regards to her craft. It also preaches conformity tied to the idea of adhering to literary conventions.

Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, however, is more consistent in its "Trust yourself" mantra. Motivated by the practice of Zen meditation, Goldberg writes for 195 pages about the necessity of allowing one's creativity to flow from them without inhibition or insecurity, simply trusting the instinct that led him or her to write in the first place. She accomplishes her thesis well, as her stories and examples allow one as a writer to feel refreshed and rejuvenated upon finishing. It is not a guidebook in the literal sense of providing frameworks and bullet points to copy, but rather Goldberg's aim is to restore confidence in the writer's personal abilities and style.

A component of her advice lies in accepting what one might view as flaws in his or her writing, and spinning them into literary gold. This task is achieved not by magic, osmosis, or following a system of laws, but by simply trusting the quirks that permit one's style to emerge. For instance, Goldberg writes that it is preferable to seek inspiration from the works of writers one admires, and this is not a mark of unoriginality, as writing is a communal, tribal process. Unlike Annie Dillard, Goldberg does not insist that the only place to write is a dark enclosed space. Where one writes is for the writer to decide.

I give The Writing Life 2 stars (of a possible 5). Trust yourself, not this book.

I prefer Writing Down the Bones, showering it with 5 stars, having found it inspiring and empowering.

What did you think about this article? Tell us!

First Name:
Email or MySpace:

Sweet Advice
Reader Feedback

February & March Magazine Issues

March 15, 2012

The February and March issues of Sweet Designs Magazine are now online, featuring a combined 53 new articles and features!!

- Cover: Stephanie Lynn reflects on 5 years
- Cover: India (of Darn-licious knitwear)
- Life in the dumps (moving in with my bf)
- The difference between men and women
- Angels among us (parts 1 and 2)
- Arts graduates & the dark night of the soul
- Triple threat (how I survived my teen yrs)
- Dating isn't easy (my true story)
- How to turn not-so-great gifts ... (fashion)
- Ten reasons to love being single
- Taking the big leap (college)
- Valentine's Day (not what you'd expect!)
- The last of the cold (hopefully) (fashion)
- A month full of love
- Ten tips for successful airline travel
- Reasons I love writing for SDM
- Who needs love?
- They're not all the same
- The life I'm glad I don't have (fiction)
- Professional dress/ finding Fendi (fashion)
- An airport anniversary: a true story
- Inappropriate Facebook photos
- The perks of a big city (college)
- A night(mare) to forget (part 2)
- The Anita Blake series (book review)
- Saving June by Hannah Harrington (book)
- Under the Mesquite by GG McCall (book)
- The Lullaby by Sarah Dessen (book)
- If I Stay by Gayle Foreman (book review)
- My sweetheart (original poetry)
- Isn't it funny (original poetry)
- The stranger (original poetry)
- A winter wonderland (original poetry)
- One night valentine
- The thick envelopes (college acceptance)
- Southern love
- Healthy hair and vitamins
- It's a date (dating idea alternatives)
- The 30 hour famine
- School's out forever!
- Marching right back into spring? (fashion)
- Dear John
- When TV shows depict your life
- 3 Fun ways to rock spring's hottest trends
- Neglected teeth
- Starting something new
- Guy movies
- To hesitate or dive in?
- Deadly, by Julie Chibbaro (book review)
- Beastly, by Alex Flinn (book review)
- I don't care (poetry)
- Together, alone (poetry)

Sweet Designs Magazine
The Magazine You Can Write For
The Voice of a New Generation


Your Ad Here