West Wing Writers’ Bookshelf
Five Books for Better Communication
Back-to-school season has us feeling a little nostalgic — for fresh notebooks, sharpened pencils, and, perhaps most of all, a stack of new books waiting to be read.
In that spirit, we’ve put together a back-to-school reading list of our own, one with lessons for communicators of all stripes. We asked West Wingers, and our colleagues at Disruption Books, to share a few recommendations. Here are five of their top picks to help you shape and share your message:
Craft in the Real World
By Matthew Salesses
“When I started at WWW, I was also doing an MFA in creative writing — so I’ve always seen the craft tools of speechwriting and fiction as complementary: How do we tell a compelling story? How do we capture a voice that is not our own? So, not only is this book great for anyone who has participated in or taught a writing workshop, it’s also essential reading for any writers and editors invested in a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive profession. In these essays, Salesses pushes on assumptions about how craft works, who it’s for, and expectations for what’s possible. Even more important, reading this has pushed me to reconsider the implications of our choices with diverse speakers and audiences, and rethink how we support and develop talented writers from all backgrounds. In some ways, there’s no better example of ‘craft in the real world’ than what we do!”
Bird by Bird
By Anne Lamott
“While this book is primarily intended for fiction authors, Lamott offers crisp, actionable advice for every kind of writer: Want more vivid details to bring your words to life? Do what Lamott dubs “calling around” — the writerly equivalent of game show phone-a-friends — and ring a coworker, a neighbor, the barista at your favorite café, or whoever might have what you need. Not sure if your piece is 100% ready for public consumption? Always send it to a trusted partner-in-penning — Lamott compares this act to asking a friend for their opinion of your dress before a party (i.e. even if they don’t like it, you’re happy you asked while you still have time to change). Wavering on whether to use a great line or save it for something bigger? Use it — in the words of writer Annie Dillard, ‘If you give freely, there will always be more.’ This is just a tiny sliver of Lamott’s writing wisdom — and even if you don’t typically enjoy books on writing (raises hand), the candor, humor, and beautiful storytelling will help you fly through Bird by Bird.”
The Art of Gathering
By Priya Parker
“While this book is indeed about how to plan better gatherings, it’s much wiser and more broadly applicable than the collection of event planning tips you might expect. In essence, it’s about how to be a thoughtful steward of the time and attention people give you. Whether your gathering is professional or personal, celebratory or elegiac, in-person or digital, Parker believes (and will convince you) that you must begin by articulating its purpose, and that purpose must inform every step of the planning.
I think of this book all the time and apply its advice not just to gathering but to long-term projects and digital communication. The piece of advice I use the most is that an attendee’s experience of an event begins not when they arrive, but the first time they hear about it. Your save the date emails will never be the same.”
The Art of Memoir
By Mary Karr
“I always recommend that memoir authors read The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. Karr, who has published three bestselling memoirs and teaches memoir writing at Syracuse University, breaks her advice into short chapters that function as a reference volume, but it’s also an enjoyable read. And while there are many books that might help an author construct sentences more clearly or present their ideas more persuasively, this book covers topics that the memoir author will instantly recognize as reflections of their own struggles to draft a personal narrative. How to deal with sensitive subjects, how to tell your story and not that of others, how to use detail to enrich your story without weighing it down, and how to build the big “S” of your story are just a few of the topics Karr covers. Accessible, filled with her own examples of writing and revision, and, above all, practical, The Art of Memoir is a book I go back to again and again to appreciate the unique challenges of memoir that make it one of my favorite genres.”
By Susan Cain
“This is a book about introverts — but one that I recommend to every leader (extroverts, too). On a practical level, there are lessons here about engaging your audience, so that people of both personality types feel more comfortable contributing to the conversation. But, more fundamentally, Cain reminds us that you don’t need to be perfectly at ease behind a podium to effectively communicate your message. Rather, just the opposite is true. Introverts have communications strengths of their own, and there is tremendous power in harnessing those. You don’t need to be the loudest voice in the room to be heard.”
What are your favorite books for writers and speakers? Share them with us in the comments below.
In “Orations Worth Ovations,” professional speechwriters analyze great speeches (real or fictional, historic or personal) and explain what makes them so good.
You can find all of these books at your local independent bookstore, or on Bookshop.org.
Follow West Wing Writers on Twitter.