The intersection of bookish people and people who write is a pretty big center chunk in the Venn diagram of life. As such, many of us know that soul crushing feeling that every word you type is the absolute worst. Being a writer (or a creative of any kind, or, really, a human being) often feels like a constant fight against that voice inside you that says “you suck.”
What can we do when that voice in our head bashes us so hard that we feel we can’t write a single word? One idea is to look to those who have fought the suck monster and won: our favorite writers. Here’s a short reading list that offers some suggestions on where to turn when The Suck rears its ugly head:
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
How It Helps: I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Mindy Kaling is my Patronus. In this book, Mindy tells quite a few stories of the struggle to become the successful writer (and all around awesome TV superstar badass) that she is today. The relatability reminds us that no one–not even Mindy–feels like they’ve got this writing thing on lock 100% of the time.
Tiny, Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
How It Helps: I know, I know. You’ve already had someone tell you to read this book to help with A Problem. This one goes on the list specifically because Cheryl Strayed responds to this very question about how to handle the crushing self doubt as a writer with these immortal words: “Write like a motherf*cker.”
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
How It Helps: Relatable and easily digestible tips from a proven master, complete with anecdotes about his own writing hurdles.
(Suggestion and blurb by Elizabeth Allen)
Hyperbole and a Half by Aly Brosch
How It Helps: This book explores the intersection of art, humor, and depression in a way that will have you laughing out loud in the best way. Laughter (and being reminded you’re not alone in what you feel) is the best medicine, after all.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
How It Helps: 12 week “program” that encourages writers and other artists to relinquish control and enjoy the journey of creation. It’s very meditative, and it asks participants to journal every morning, as well as make time for “artist’s dates,” where you do something that brings you joy and creative fulfillment. Warning, though: the 4th week of the program requires participants to abstain from reading for a week, so prepare yourself if you’re really committed!
(Suggestion and blurb by Katie McLain)
Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block
How It Helps: This isn’t a how-to book; Lawrence Block does not give his readers writing advice (although he does discuss his own methods and views on the subject). Rather, it’s a comfort read for writers. Block takes all the difficulties of writing–from spending hours alone staring at a blank screen to self-doubt, penury, trying to come up with titles, rewriting, short stories versus novels, and everything in between–and instead of making these difficulties seem insurmountable, instead makes them seem completely normal. You’re not alone! Not to mention there are some lines in this book that are sooo freaking hilarious. This is one of the rare nonfiction books that I can read again and again and get something different out of it every time.
(Suggestion and blurb by Tasha Brandstatter)
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
How It Helps: I recently picked up my half-read copy Bird by Bird again because a friend was reading it. I’ve found myself closing the book to note ideas that popped into my head for my current work in progress after reading her commentary. Lamott, who has had years of experience teaching writing, writes with a supreme level of clarity and frankness. Her thoughts and observations about plot, character development, and simply doing the work prompt me to work harder and better. Not only does this book foment creativity, it makes me laugh (even as I’m bemoaning the creative struggle).
(Suggestion and blurb by S. Zainab Williams)
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
How It Helps: Some of the characters in these books experience traditional success in their chosen art forms and some do not. Wolitzer explores how both sides of that coin can affect your personal life and personal growth in a way that reminds us that success is more than just a laundry list of what you’ve created.
The Curiosities by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff
How It Helps: It’s a collection of short stories by the three authors and friends, and they’ve doodled and chattered about it all throughout the book, talking about how to write and what they’re doing, and so forth. Something about excellent stories with the process around them laid bare really helps me. All I’m looking for when I’m reading because the writing is hard is a book that reminds me “Calm down. You’re making too much of this. Just find the next scene, and don’t worry beyond that. You know how.” Good fiction resonates in such a way that I remember that and I can get back to work.
(Suggestion and blurb by Peter Damien)
So there you have it: a few bookish places to turn when your inner voice turns nasty.