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Thread: What do you want in a writing book?

  1. #1
    Sailing in a sea of mushroom... Nerdilydone's Avatar
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    What do you want in a writing book?

    So there are tons of books out there for writers, and some time ago there was a thread where people talked about their favorite writing books. Trouble is, the only writing book most of us seemed to think was worthwhile was Stephen King's On Writing, with perhaps an exception here or there.

    Personally, I find that the books that help me the most with writing have nothing to do with writing -- they are science books, history books, or photobooks of places with scenery that help my imagination. This is apparently the case with a lot of writers. After all, who is going to spend the day reading a book about nothing but grammar rules, most of which you already know, don't need, or aren't necessarily applicable to what you're writing? Likewise, a book of prompts isn't usually going to be fun, because the funnest part of writing is coming up with the story yourself. The hard part is sitting down and actually doing the writing for as long as it takes to finish. There's lots of writing books out there that spell out rules, and these rules can either be false or subjective. Then there's the fluff pieces, ones that really only talk about the "enlightenment" of writing, or something like that, and don't really leave anything substantive on the brain.

    So, in other words, what is something that could be in a writing book that would help you, or at least would have helped your past, less experienced self? Or if you can think of any books that do exist that you think would help, feel free to list those.

  2. #2
    Travelling around the sun cbenoi1's Avatar
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    If you are looking for the sort of slap-in-the-face wake-up call that has the power to turn a good story into a great one, I recommend reading Fire In Fiction, and Writing The Breakout Novel, both from Donald Maas.

    -cb

  3. #3
    Come on you stranger, you legend, Devil Ledbetter's Avatar
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    I've read many, but the one that helped me the most was Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

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  4. #4
    Stand in the Place Where You Live KTC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nerdilydone View Post

    So, in other words, what is something that could be in a writing book that would help you, or at least would have helped your past, less experienced self? Or if you can think of any books that do exist that you think would help, feel free to list those.
    For me, I just like discovering nuggets in books...even if it's something I already knew intrinsically or otherwise. It's always good to be reminded of things. One book that I return to again and again is W. Somerset Maugham's The Summing Up. It's essentially an ON WRITING from a past generation. It's autobiographical and conversationally toned. Personally, I'm always looking for other writers to tell me it's okay to write different things. Maugham was a playwright and novelist...proof that the two can co-habitat the same body. So...I said fuck it and wrote the plays I wanted to write. My 12th play is being produced this summer (next month). Without having read that book, I may have prevented myself from stepping into the playwright ring. I look mostly for affirmation when reading books on writing. Though...the editing how-tos are also usually excellent.
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  5. #5
    figuring it all out
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    Two radically different favorites for me:

    1) from an editor's perspective: https://www.amazon.com/Stein-Writing.../dp/0312254210

    2) from an artist's perspective: https://www.amazon.com/Artists-Way-2...+julia+cameron

  6. #6
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    I've never read a writing book. I tend to find textbooks dry, and would prefer to seek solutions in published fiction.
    "Though one evil spirit may drive a woman out of Eden, all the devils in hell cannot drive Heaven out of a woman."

    -- George MacDonald

  7. #7
    Sailing in a sea of mushroom... Nerdilydone's Avatar
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    I sympathize with your opinion, Harley, though I wasn't technically talking about textbooks. Still, it's fun to really see what people observe about writing. I like it when people write about their own writing methods, and you can select things that you like about their methods.

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW LJD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Devil Ledbetter View Post
    I've read many, but the one that helped me the most was Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

    This is one of my favourites, too.

    For romance, I like Romancing the Beat. I have trouble applying most books on plot and structure to the romance genre, which is what I write, so this was a big help.

    GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict is good, too.

    Not a big fan of the more autobiographical, "this is what my writing journey looked like" type of books. I find they cannot sustain my interest for a whole book. On Writing is perhaps the best of these. I enjoyed it well enough, but I don't think it actually helped my writing.

  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW Maze Runner's Avatar
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    I hadn't realized it till KTC said it, but I also pick the nuggets out of writing books. If you get one or a few that resonate for you that makes it for me a worthwhile read.

    I also agree with what Harlequin said, in that I get a lot out of seeing principles in action.

    Besides On Writing, also Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner. And the Mailer book, The Spooky Art is probably more an account of one writer's journey, but for me there's affirmation to be found in those kinds of books as well.

  10. #10
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    well to clarify it's not that I don't appreciate tips, but anything longer than a short internet article and my attention wanders >.> I seem to have real trouble with the abstract concepts unless I can see them in practice (hence fiction).

    I think it's just a learning method issue. Was the same in school--can't stand lectures or long nonfiction reads (unless history).
    "Though one evil spirit may drive a woman out of Eden, all the devils in hell cannot drive Heaven out of a woman."

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  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW Maze Runner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    well to clarify it's not that I don't appreciate tips, but anything longer than a short internet article and my attention wanders >.> I seem to have real trouble with the abstract concepts unless I can see them in practice (hence fiction).

    I think it's just a learning method issue. Was the same in school--can't stand lectures or long nonfiction reads (unless history).
    I have to be very interested in a writer, and with bios, with the person. Mailer just happens to be an interesting guy to me.

  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW
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    Anything written by Sol Stein
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  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW talktidy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Devil Ledbetter View Post
    I've read many, but the one that helped me the most was Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.
    Yep.

    I had read a writing guide by Sol Stein and found it helpful, but the Browne and King book was amazing and upped the quality of my writing immediately.

    Mind you, I still have a long way to go.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Devil Ledbetter View Post
    I've read many, but the one that helped me the most was Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.
    Just ordered your recommendation...looking forward to it!
    " Never thought I'd get this far"

  15. #15
    figuring it all out AR_Kingston's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    well to clarify it's not that I don't appreciate tips, but anything longer than a short internet article and my attention wanders >.> I seem to have real trouble with the abstract concepts unless I can see them in practice (hence fiction).

    I think it's just a learning method issue. Was the same in school--can't stand lectures or long nonfiction reads (unless history).
    I'm the same way. If I want to know something I'll either google it and read a few articles or come here and ask. I find instruction manuals of any kind difficult to read. Personally, I think they tend to over complicate things. But, that's just me.

  16. #16
    People are not wearing enough hats JJ Litke's Avatar
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    Currently I'm reading Save the Cat by Blake Snyder--really about screenwriting, and a little more rigid than necessary when you translate the concepts to novels, but I'm picking up some interesting stuff about overall pacing.

    Quote Originally Posted by cbenoi1 View Post
    Fire In Fiction, ... from Donald Maas.
    Quote Originally Posted by Devil Ledbetter View Post
    I liked both of those.

    Quote Originally Posted by LJD View Post
    Not a big fan of the more autobiographical, "this is what my writing journey looked like" type of books. I find they cannot sustain my interest for a whole book. On Writing is perhaps the best of these. I enjoyed it well enough, but I don't think it actually helped my writing.
    Yes! I still don't quite get how On Writing is valuable as a writing guide. It was kind of cool to see a few (very few) excerpts of his editing, but he makes out like cutting is all there is to editing. Like you said, it's really about his journey.
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  17. #17
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Depends what aspect of writing you wish to read up on. Personally, I found Stephen King's On Writing interesting insofar as the relating of his writing experiences went but as far as helping somebody to start writing a novel I didn't find it particularly helpful - indeed pretty useless.

    For starting, I found Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V Swain, and Scene & Structure -How to construct fiction with scene-by-scene flow, logic and readability. by Jack M Bickham to be infinitely more helpful.

    Relax - and read them as opposed to studying them - you'll find yourself snapping your fingers and saying 'Of course' but it's so easy to overlook the most obvious paths and solutions to creating clarity and flow.
    Everything yields to treatment.

  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW
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    On Writing is a very good book and one I tend to recommend to writers. There are a few others I always suggest they read.

    Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott

    Revising Fiction, by David Madden

    The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner

    These are excellent practical and conceptual books on the mechanics and theory of writing.

  19. #19
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    I've read a few of those. The best guide to writing I've encountered was Stepen King's On Writing. Ironically, it never gave direct advice, and things to do but followed some events in King's life, in form of short stories, and an attentive reader could learn something out of them all. It's really different from the usual "Become a writer: rules prowriters don't want you to know" formats I've seen on the market.

  20. #20
    Aerospace engineer turned writer Laer Carroll's Avatar
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    With Harlequin I found that the best teaching tool was reading novels which fascinated me. I learned 99% of what I know from them, but not by studying them. The best capture me and keep me immersed in their story and I cannot be objective and study them. Instead by osmosis I learned (and learn) all sorts of matters, starting with the very most basic such as how to fit sounds together to make a word which resonates emotionally and mentally, to grammar rules and how to break them, all the way up to how to create a trilogy and manage a career.

    Short collected bios of writers, such as the several put out by Publishers Weekly, helped me because it showed the incredible variety of people who become a pro writer, which I'm working to be. Some start early, some late, even very late. They are of all races and classes and genders and circumstances, from idyllic to incredibly hard. The way they work, from extreme planners to extreme improvisers, is similarly various, making it clear that there is no one right way to work, only My Way which grows and improves over time.

    Technique books have been very helpful, mostly in make conscious a lot of what I already knew subconsciously. Not one of them was universally helpful. Maybe 10-20 %, here a chapter on dialogue, there a chapter on plotting, elsewhere a chapter on developing characters. From King's On Writing I learned only one piece of useful advice: to improve READ MUCH, WRITE MUCH. Which may be the most useful advice of all the many I've gotten.

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