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If You Want to Write … Start Here!

These writing guides deserve a perch on the bookshelves of writers both novice and veteran

The Journal Keeper: A Memoir by Phyllis Theroux. A solid-gold example of mining the meaning hidden in your journals. Theroux has written several winning essay collections. Here she invites you into her life, hands you a glass of wine, and launches into a conversation about art, love, relationships, aging, loss, reading and writing.

If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit by Brenda Ueland. A welcome respite from the brain buzzing brought on by print and electronic media bombardment. Ueland offers tips on ways to tap your imagination, including “moodling — long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” You can’t lollygag all day, of course; at some point you have to put what’s in your mind onto paper or screen. If You Want to Write helps with that, too.

One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty. The lessons in this widely treasured memoir are all about the craft of writing and its three essential ingredients: listening, learning to see and finding a voice. Read it and witness how Welty creates a deep sense of place, trains her eye for detail and hones her ear for the nuances of the language she heard growing up in Jackson, Mississippi.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser. The elements of good composition. Interviewing and travel-writing tips. Writing a memoir. It’s all here in this aptly titled “classic” handbook for working writers. “Develop one voice that readers will recognize when they hear it on the page,” advises Zinsser, “a voice that’s enjoyable not only in its musical line but in its avoidance of sounds that would cheapen its tone: breeziness and condescension and clichés.” Once you learn that “creeping nounism … is a new American disease,” you’ll be well on the way to absorbing Zinsser’s main points: Be clear, concise and uncluttered in your writing. Have fun, he counsels, and your readers will too.

Elfrieda Abbe is the publisher and former editor of The Writer magazine.

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