In my last blog, High School Reunion, I talked about my favorite high school English teacher and the impact he had on my reading and writing. He was one of many wonderful teachers I had from grade school through graduate school, all of whom influenced me in different but important ways.
But books and their authors have been my most consistent teachers over the years. I’m talking specifically about non-fiction books. Many, like the “For Dummies” series, are actually “How To” manuals providing usual step-by-step strategies for learning. But more broadly, I have avidly read books on a wide variety of subjects that fall into categories such as parenting, self-help, personal growth, psychology, religion, philosophy, spirituality, creativity, and writing.
Having recently been ushered into grandparenthood—and watching my son and daughter-in-law navigate the “new parent” waters—I was led to reminisce about my own maiden voyage over 30 years ago. Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care (my mother’s parenting source) was still floating around, but more popular were newcomers T. Berry Brazelton and Penelope Leach. Leach’s book, Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five, (still a bestseller today), was my bible for those early years. Later, when working with children and families, I was introduced to Daniel Siegal and Mary Hartzell’s Parenting from the Inside Out, which married my passions for attachment theory and neuroscience in a very approachable and relevant style.
My introduction to books as “writing teachers” also began close to 30 years ago with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, were other early influences. I had no conscious plan of becoming an author at the time. Rather, I simply had an urge to write and was drawn to these books. It was a case of “when the student is ready the teacher appears”—though I wasn’t even aware of being ready! It took many years to finally recognize the seeds that were being sown.
Now, I seek out books on writing with the plan to become better at what I love. I know I’m a novice who has a lot to learn. I recently read Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, in which he describes that writers fall into four categories: the bad, the adequate, the good and, at the top, the great writers—the gifted geniuses. He goes on the say that “…while it is impossible to make a competent writer our of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.” (page 142.) I don’t know that everyone would agree with King on this point, but it motivates me to strive to become a better writer.
I also need to learn to be an author, which encompasses so much more than I ever imagined. Truthfully, had I known all that was involved, I might not have embarked on this journey at all! Brooke Warner’s books, What’s Your Book and Green Light Your Book have been invaluable resources, full of helpful information. I’m on a steep learning curve, but I’ve always loved learning and books have always been my primary pathway to new knowledge.
I just finished Betsy Graziani Fasbinder’s From Page to Stage: Inspiration, tools, and Public Speaking Tips for Writers, which was full of practical tools and compassionate advice for even the most introverted of those among us. Fasbinder, a self-proclaimed glossophobe, speaks to strategies she has both utilized and taught to improve performance and decrease anxiety. Written specifically for authors, she shares inspirational quotes and “Mental Shifts” to help authors think differently about public speaking – and even make it fun!
My current “go to” for writing inspiration is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic in which she writes that living creatively is “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than fear.” (pg. 9) I can tap into fear and self-doubt often, worrying about outcomes or the value of my writing. Gilbert’s message to accept my truth—that I need to write and that’s all I really need to know—is one that inspires me in my darker times.
I currently have a long list of books on writing and publishing, along with many fiction books, that I want to read. It’s always a case of “so many books, so little time,” isn’t it?
Have books been teachers for you? If so, what books in particular have been important to you?