There's this famous Ira Glass comment about creativity that seems to be quoted, videoed and lettered across the internet over and over again. If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's the man himself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ResTHKVxf4
Although this quote is now ubiquitous, it speaks of the hard truth about the gap between what you can do and what you want to do. As Ira Glass suggests, practice and building a body of work is the best way to improve -- especially in the creative arts. But sometimes a little advice goes a long way too.
I'm not one for 'how-to' books unless they involve cooking or D.I.Y. (even then, I don't care for them) but the following books have been useful as either a source of information or when I need it, inspiration. Not all of these books are writing guides, many are anthologies that I have found particularly helpful. They're all pretty good reads too.
In real life, this book is pretty grubby and dog-eared (but seems to photograph well) as I have carried it from the U.S. to Australia, back to the U.S., then back to Australia. I have used it for advice, for ideas, for practical tips and sometimes, just to remind myself to keep-on-writing. This isn't really the kind of book you would read cover to cover (unless you want to), but it's the perfect book to use as a resource while writing. It covers everything from structure to ethics, sub-genres to narrative in news and includes some of my favourite writers such as Katherine Boo and Tracy Kidder. It looks like you can also buy an online version -- so if you're a travelling writer, that might be a good idea.
This dense book is a fascinating look into the world of non-fiction writing, immersive journalism and the people who do it best. While it covers character, dialogue, reporting and story narrative among other things, I found the chapters on structure and the anecdotes themselves to be most interesting. I love hearing how and why other people do things the way they do and this book allows me to be a less creepy version of a voyeur. As a side note, the book quotes a long line of male journalists from Ted Conover to John McPhee, all of whom I think are great -- but where are all the ladies, huh?
This book, which I stole from my boyfriend who I believe 'borrowed' it from a friend in New York quite a few years ago, is perhaps one of the most famous 'guides' on writing (and maybe life). Although Lamott's book would be more targeted to novelists or personal essayists, Bird by Bird is an endearing and funny read that does so while staying true to the writer and the writing life.
Part of my love for this book comes purely from its sparse format and strange, typewriter-esque font. And like its layout, the book's advice is kind of old-school but still, in my opinion, valuable. If you're someone interested in foreign correspondence and reporting on international affairs this book is broken down into chapters of each format (radio, broadcast, news etc.) which at first seems a little dated considering the rise of online news but is supplemented with anecdotes and stories from very seasoned journos that are hard to beat. Rosenblum, the author, also has an interesting and active Facebook page.
Like most of the internet, I have raved about Susan Orlean many times. Her talent, in my opinion at least, is the ability to make anything interesting. While she tends to write more about quirky, funny and sometimes very random topics everything is thoroughly researched, reported and then structured in such a way that illuminates the story even more. The great thing about having this book (or any of her other books) is that you can dissect her stories, figure out what makes each one great and then steal it and make it your own. Plus, who doesn't love a writer confident enough to grace the cover of their own anthology with a bullfighter's cape in tow.
Like Orlean's anthology, this is more of a D.I.Y. read-this-book-and-take-what-you-want-from-it. It was recommended to me by a friend who said it was about Horwitz's own quarter-life-crisis and could maybe help with my own looming feelings of doubt and confusion. To some extent, reading about a successful writer struggling with their own stuff, is comforting. But more than that, it was really good. The vignettes detail Horwitz's time as a freelancer in the Middle East and offer an insight into the story behind the story he was actually reporting. It is funny, political and interesting and offers a portrait of the Middle East that is both the same and very different to the Middle East of today.
Despite my fear of sounding repetitive, I'm going to mention this Best of Outside anthology yet again. I don't regularly read Outside Magazine as it's unavailable in Australia (I do read online features like this one by Tim Zimmerman) but while I was in the U.S. working as an enviro reporter I quickly learnt how highly people speak of the 'old Outside' which is what this book celebrates. As I never read Outside Magazine prior to 2013, I can't really lament what it once was, but I can enjoy and learn quite a lot from this anthology. It's three chapters and 31 stories cover everything from hunting to travel to profiles of cowgirls and famous environmentalists, but a highlight for me, was Bob Shacochis' There must be a God in Haiti which I read about a week after returning from Haiti. It is a poignant and vivid picture of th Haiti of the 90s and still resonates true today.
I first heard of Rolf Potts while in Nicaragua, when a backpacking friend recommended his infamous book, Vagabonding. But I came across this collection of travel writing through freelance writer Lu-Hai Liang's great blog. Admittedly, I haven't finished the book just yet (sadly, I actually spend very little time reading) but I decided to include it in this line-up because so far, it's pretty great. The anthology includes a commentary track, kind of like DVD special features, where Potts says something more about the story, or gives the backstory to the story, or includes a short ramble on travelling and backpacking. For better or worse, this book has given me some serious itchy feet while reminding me of all the great adventures I've been lucky to have so far.