Required Nonfiction Reading for Writers

Writing can be exciting. Writing can also be terrifying, thankless, exhausting, repetitive, stressful, and despair-inducing. There’s no benefit to glamorizing the poor, downtrodden artist; artists are real human beings just trying to forge a space in the world for their work, and it can feel impossible. Luckily, some writers have smart advice about how to get through this brutal desert.

These are not how-tos or guides on how to write. This is not advice about three-dimensional characters and stripping away your adverbs and how to use sensory detail. This is life support. This is critical, necessary reading for writers who are trying to make it in a world that is hostile to our kind, with an art that can be hostile to its creator. Obviously, your mileage may vary with each essay. But I hope that they’re as helpful to you as they have been to me.

Read, and be well.

When you’re broke and struggling to support yourself and your work. (Molly Crabapple / “Filthy Lucre” / VICE)

When you’re doubting your writing. (Cheryl Strayed / “Write Like a Motherfucker” / Dear Sugar)

When you’re stressed out by the meandering nature of your writing “career.” (Lorrie Moore / “How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned This Cliche?” /  The New York Times)

When you’re worrying about the perfect novel you haven’t written yet. (Zadie Smith / “Fail Better” / The Guardian)

When you feel like you’ll never make it, when you feel like a failure, when you’ve succeeded a little and you feel like a fraud, when you feel like everything is toppling around you and so you can’t write, when you’re making mistakes all over the place, or when you’re not enjoying yourself.  (Neil Gaiman / “Make Good Art” / Commencement Speech)

When you feel overwhelmed by the human limitations of your work. (Elizabeth Gilbert / “Your Elusive Creative Genius” / TED Talk)

When you’re in a staring contest with writer’s block and you’re losing. (Kelly Link / “The Weirdest Story Ideas Come From Your Own Obsessions” / io9)

When you’ve been been rejected – again. (Cheryl Strayed / “Now, Then, Always” / Personal Blog)

When you’re feeling isolated from your artistic community and worried about promotion. (Blake Butler / “Where Did Lucy Purchase Her New Vagina?” / Personal Blog)

When you’re feeling deadened by routine and uncharitable to the entire stupid world. (David Foster Wallace / “This is Water” / Commencement Speech)

When you find out that something you’ve written has eerie, anxiety-inducing parallels to an older work you’re certain you’ve never read, or you’re worried about the undue influence of the masters. (Jonathan Lethem / “The Ecstasy of Influence” / Harper’s Magazine)

When you’re feeling disappointed in yourself. (S.J. Culver / “On Expectations (And A Writer’s Lack Of Same)” / The Awl)

When you feel like you’re writing and writing and nothing good is coming out. (Willa Cather / “On the Art of Fiction” / A Collection of Stories, Reviews and Essays)

When you’re feeling overwhelmed and you need to start afresh and you want someone kind and smart to guide you through the process. (Anne Lamott / Bird by Bird)

When you know that you should be trawling through your memories for ideas and inspiration but you don’t know where to begin. (Lynda Barry / What It Is)

If you have suggestions for resources to add to this list, by all means, comment/email me and let me know. Please include a link!

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