How to choose the right books about writing?

Marcy L. turned to me with this question and though I can only guess answers to most of the questions, I can be confident, when replying to this one. I should – I’ve spent most of the last year reading one “how to write” book after another.

My advice would be this: there is no one book out there to fill you with skills you need as a writer. There really isn’t – one writer prefers one writing style, another seeks help from a different book, but there really isn’t one that would suit them all. This seems quite frustrating answer?

I would suggest instead of reading them all, which in the end gets very confusing, choose one and learn it by heart. By this I don’t mean to go and pick something random, you still need to read a bit to understand what they are about, but instead of getting them all, try finding one that calls out to you and stick with that one.

There are two things beginners love to forget: you do need to learn tricks of the trade in order to go pass “got idea, wrote it, it repeats what I wrote yesterday” phase and one book does give those tricks to you, you just need to actually use it. And I mean use it. Not go on to next one, because it didn’t make sense. Most of the beginners books have the same built and they take you through the all the necessary brick work. The difference is just in the mortal used to build the wall with the bricks.

I’m very fond of Donald Maass and Write Great Fiction series and don’t get me started on Dean Koontz book that came out in 1970s! James Frey and Nancy Kress have same style books, but I couldn’t get myself read them through. Yet I know they are just as good to teach you all the basics. The difference really is in which of the author suits with you and when you’ve found it, stick with the teachings and actually take the time to go through the exercises and try it out.

There is criticism, which I’ve often faced too, that if you have talent, you don’t need to know rules and you don’t need to mess your talent up by learning to push it in boundaries. That’s all very nice and I gladly shake hands with anyone, who is aware they’ve got talent, but it is sad site when such talents write and wait for someone to come and reclaim them, if one could say so. Unless you add work to it and get yourself some firewood for that phoenix, you will only see the ashes.

If you don’t know where to begin, I’d suggest Donald Maass “Writing the breakout novel” or anything from Write Great Fiction series. Nancy Kress series are also good to understand the tools. One thing is sure – most of us don’t have good courses to take or clubs to join, but this doesn’t mean you must parish without good teachings. It’s just about finding a good book and after that a library.


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Filed under elements of writing, writing trivia

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