This post is not intended to be a list of how-to guides, but rather a collection of fictional or autobiographical accounts of writers and the act of writing. Since writing rarely includes a great deal of action, and writing about writing can get rather meta, compiling this list was a greater challenge than I had expected. Some on this list I recommend personally, others I have been convinced by review, recommendation and research to include, and one or two have crept on by sheer popularity.
1. Italo Calvino – If on a winter’s night a traveler. A novel that plays with intertextuality and an unnerving use of the second person in order to explore the acts of reading and writing. Author David Mitchell revisits the book in a fascinating article for The Guardian. Read Calvino first, Mitchell second.
2. Essays of E.B. White. “Only a person who is congenitally self-centred has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays.” – From the Foreword.
3. Vladimir Nabokov – Pale Fire. Hat tip to A.V. Club for this choice, which they describe as “a wryly hilarious book, particularly as a portrait of writerly delusion and self-aggrandization.”
4. Simone de Beauvoir – The Second Sex. Chosen very much with the idea of the act of writing in mind, de Beauvoir aimed to put into words a concept and argument previously unwritten. Through this act of writing she confronted and challenged culture.
5. Stephen King – On Writing. With so many bestsellers under his belt, his thoughts on writing cannot be ignored, including his most famous line, “kill your darlings.”
6. Annie Dillard – The Writing Life. Hat tip to Paste Magazine for this one, in which Dillard “discusses with clear eye and wry wit how, where and why she writes.”
7. Chuck Palahnuik – Haunted. I am a huge fan of Palahnuik and I would think his twisted and gripping style is perfectly suited to address the dark and self-interested side of writing and writers.
8. Jonathan Lethem – The Ecstasy of Influence. ‘A career-spanning collection of writings…that doubles as a novelist’s manifesto, self-portrait, and confession.’ I am relying on the blurb here because I have only recently started this book, but it is on the list because already it has sent me spinning off on all sorts of reading and research tangents.
9. Virginia Woolf – A Room of One’s Own. An extended essay based on a series of lectures that Woolf gave in 1928, this text explores the idea that patriarchal society prevents women from having a room of their own, both literally and figuratively, thereby preventing them from writing.
10. Sam Anderson – A View From the Margins. Not a book, but still writing on writing. The New York Times critic and “marginalia obsessive” tells his year through his notes in the margin.