Thursday, May 15, 2014

Walter Mason on the "writing books" that keep him going

The writer writing...or is he reading?

I have found myself in the last year or so becoming the world’s most unlikely creative writing teacher.

I have struggled with my own creative energies all my life and didn’t publish my first book until I was 40, so I always feel strange about giving other people advice. That said, I do feel like I have spent a lifetime learning from books and writers and waiting – rather too long – for the right moment to launch my own work.

People often vouch for the efficacy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and I have just finished going through it myself for the fourth time. This is the first time I did it with a group of people (led by the charming author Rosamund Burton), and I found it quite a different and far more stimulating experience. So much so that I am not yet willing to relinquish the book. I am going through key sections of it again and keep working using its famous methods of morning pages and artist’s dates.

But I don’t need to endorse that most famous book on these pages, I have no doubt that most of you have read it. It has been a bestseller for twenty years, and rightly so. I would, however, like to bring your attention to a couple of books that I have found especially inspiring for my writing life recently. Having just completed the teaching of my own six-week Creative Groove course, I am particularly open to inspiration and practical tips for exploring the writing life.

So here are some books that I have recommended to my own students and which I think you will find helpful:

Ensouling Language by Stephen Harrod Buhner – Buhner is a wonderful eccentric, a master herbalist and author with an enchanting turn of phrase. This book is actually immensely practical, even pragmatic. I have been reading it, over and over, for about three years. I know that I only need to go though two or three pages before I find some incredibly helpful piece of advice that will inspire my own writing or teaching. You will never regret getting this book.
From Maira Kalman's The Principles of Uncertainty

The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman – I had never heard of this book till last year’s Melbourne Writers’ Festival, when it was recommended by the wonderful Kevin Kwan, who named it as one of his “Things of Beauty". He showed some of its wonderful illustrations, and I ordered my own copy that day. I have been enchanted ever since and have discovered that Kalman has a great cult following, including the very talented Benjamin Law who told me on Facebook how much he loved the book. Kalman is an illustrator and writer, and this original book is about living a life of discovery and wonder.

I Can See Clearly Now by Wayne W. Dyer – Who better to learn from than one of the bestselling authors of our time. Dyer’s memoir, recently released, is many things, and is in invaluable reading for anyone who is influenced by spirituality in their writing. A blog book, it is enthralling from page one, and describes the journey of a very clever and wise man whose life has been the most fascinating evolution. It also sent me back to Thoreau, who is Dyer’s great literary hero. Indeed, you will be surprised by just how literary this book is.

Love, Sex, Death and Words by John Sutherland and Stephen Fender – The first time I read a review of this book, I knew I must have it. A perpetual daybook for writers and readers, it is a yearlong miscellany of quirky literary facts and obsessions. Be reminded and inspired at the beginning of each day, and learn how momentous literary history is. From the emergence of swinging London and the great wave of British playwrights on the 15th of May 1956 through the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird on the 11th of July 1960 to the birth of Maxine Hong Kingston on the 27th of October 1940, you will be the best-informed writer in town if you check this book every day.

Legendary creative writing teacher William Zinsser

Writing Places by William Zinsser – Another memoir, this time by the author of the legendary On Writing Well, one of the bestselling books of writing instruction of all time. Zinsser takes us through his journey as a writer and as a teacher of writing, and his warm and affectionate prose make this book an absolute delight. He is humble and interested in others, and in turn inspires me to continue being a creative writing teacher. You never know whose life you will change!

Life’s Companion by Christina Baldwin – This is easily my favourite guide to journal writing (along with my co-host Stephanie Dowrick’s simply wonderful Creative Journal Writing). Baldwin has been teaching journal writing workshops since the 1970s, and this is the classic in the field. Drawing on Shamanism, Jungian psychology and the poetry of Rilke, properly working through this remarkable book will easily take you an entire year, and you will use it constantly thereafter. Practical, deeply spiritual and strangely calming, this book is always by my writing desk.

Writing Down Your Soul by Janet Conner – We featured this book as one of our earlier book club books - you can find it in our rich log of past articles - and her 30-day guided programs are intense, involving and completely wonderful. Writing Down Your Soul is about so much more than journal writing. It is a supernatural, almost shamanic process that comes closer to automatic writing than any kind of psychological analysis. It is about listening to the strong voice within, and finding out where it might lead you. If you stick with this book for thirty days it will change your life, I guarantee.

Sales links (postage free) for Ensouling Language.  For I Can See Clearly Now. For Love, Sex, Death and Words (e-book). For Writing Down Your Soul. For Destination Cambodia.

Walter Mason's most recent book is Destination Cambodia. We would welcome your comments on his recommendations; the comments box is immediately below. Also, we offer general book buying opportunities through the links on the upper right of this page. Links to books mentioned in this article are directly above. Enjoy!