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.