View Full Version : How many books on writing have you read?

05-09-2008, 09:07 PM
I was just dusting one of my bookcases and realized that I own over TWENTY books on writing:eek: It seems that every five years or so I give in to the urge and attempt to write something. Each bout of renewed interest leads me to buy 1 (ok 4 or 5) new books on writing. Please tell me I am not alone in this. I'm feeling a tad pathetic right now-not because I enjoy learning about the craft, but because I have very little to show for it. I read instead of write. I learn 101 ways to do something and then becomed crippled by indecision and can't move forward. I'm currently working on my 2nd first draft (since entering adulthood) and was doing well until I looked something up on POVs and found three different sources state that beginners would do best to avoid using multiple POVs. There went my confidence, now my story is at a standstill.

So how many (if any) have you read? What has been your experience with them-do you find the suggestions easy to implement? Or do you primarily read for inspiration as opposed to instruction?

05-09-2008, 09:22 PM
Sorry love, can't help you. I have the opposite problem. I have often felt pathetic because I have never read a book on how to write. I have often, when confronted by well meaning friends who recommend them, thought that maybe I wasn't any good at it. Then I talk to the hubs about it and he reminds me that he HATES to read and he is addicted to my book (he claims it's not just because I wrote it...we shall see). I suppose the point that I am trying to make is this- reading is a good thing (personally I LOVE to kick back with a nice, trashy romance novel), but not if it kills your confidence. Write your stories your way and to hell with what the books say. What do they know about you anyways?

05-09-2008, 09:29 PM
If you mean specifically fiction writing, I believe I've read exactly 3. But I did get a couple for my birthday that I haven't read yet.

05-09-2008, 09:37 PM
Haven't read any. I'd feel silly picking them up. "But these things are for real writers."

05-09-2008, 09:47 PM
To my mind, all books are on writing. It's how you read them that matters.

05-09-2008, 10:01 PM
To my mind, all books are on writing. It's how you read them that matters.
Deep, Dude. :)

05-09-2008, 10:17 PM
I've never read any books specifically on the topic how to write. When I started my freelancing career, I read maybe half a dozen on how to sell what you write.

05-09-2008, 10:21 PM
I'll jump in.

Having none, nada, zero official training as a writer, about halfway through my first novel I thought, "Hm, am I even doing this right?" (the voice of Mr. Mom's kid whining "You're doing it wrong" echoing in my head...) My husband is a TV and film writer so I dug through some of his books, read Robert McKee's STORY, then picked up some of my own. I try not to be obsessive about it. Emphasis on "try."

I think the single most helpful subject I've come across in my reading is on self-editing. SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne and Dave King, Noah Lukeman's THE FIRST FIVE PAGES and good ole THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE helped me immensely.

Other favorites - Stephen King's ON WRITING, Betsy Lerner's THE FOREST FOR THE TREES and the aforementioned STORY. Sometimes, if I'm feel stuck or unmotivated, just reading through some of these starts my brain churning and all of a sudden I'm back on track.

In the end, I think a lot of books either start to repeat each other, or contradict each other in a way that makes my head spin, so I've avoided filling my shelves with titles about sure-fire plot techniques and lists of character traits. I did buy Rebecca McClanahan's book on descriptive writing, because I feel self-consciously subpar in that area.

05-09-2008, 10:32 PM
I have thirty or forty books about writing, mainly fiction, a couple on dramatic or screenplay writing. I love them and read the best of them over and over. I find them inspiring rather than intimidating, because I've come to expect vast differences of opinion on all matters, technical or stylistic or downright existential. There are no rules that can't be broken, no prescriptions that must be followed. The thing is, the more you know about the rules and the prescriptions, the better equipped you are to break and veer away from them.

My favorite is still Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. If this can't get you writing, you aren't meant to write.

And, hey, if you want to write your first story with multiple POVs, you go ahead. You may make it work fine, you may get in trouble. Who cares? It's the first draft, and as Anne would tell you, first drafts are allowed to be shitty.

05-09-2008, 10:35 PM
I have five books on writing:

On Writing by Stephen King (http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Stephen-King/dp/0743455967/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210357306&sr=8-1)

The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist by Thomas McCormack (http://www.amazon.com/Fiction-Editor-Novel-Novelist-Publishers/dp/1589880307/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210357372&sr=8-2)

13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley (http://www.amazon.com/13-Ways-Looking-at-Novel/dp/1400033187/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210357450&sr=8-1)

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott (http://www.amazon.com/Write-Science-Fiction-Fantasy-Writing/dp/0898794161/ref=pd_bbs_6?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210357514&sr=8-6)

The Screenwriter's Bible by David Trottier (http://www.amazon.com/Screenwriters-Bible-Complete-Writing-Formatting/dp/1879505843/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210357584&sr=8-1)

All great books, and highly recommended, but usually this type of stuff goes in one ear and out the other for me. I think the only bit of advice that I use is from The Fiction Editor..., talking about prelibations -- kind of a skill for determining what comes next in the story by figuring what you have a "taste" for.

AW is a great resource, and I love it to bits, but I'm glad I didn't stumble upon it before I had a couple of novel drafts under my belt. I think too much information can be crippling. You should let yourself grow as a writer, distance yourself from "friendly advice" and let your voice develop on its own for a while. Once you've got some confidence in your writing, you'll be able to sort out the good advice from the bad.

Remember, this is supposed to be fun! :)


05-09-2008, 10:37 PM
As with all things in life, I never read the instruction manual. Actually I read one writing book because it was required for my creative writing class in college. It was short and interesting but didn't really have much to do with the craft. Who cares what someone else has to say about how you "should" do it?

I've always learned best by experimentation and example. Take what you like, leave the rest behind.

Michael Davis
05-09-2008, 10:40 PM
Two. The first (can't remember the title) was BS, and I stopped after about 50 pages. The second (think it was "The complete Book on Novel writing") was a collection of ideas, experiences, and lessons learned by published authors. It was quite good. I found about 2/3 of it very useful.

05-09-2008, 10:46 PM
I've probably read hundreds...I have about 30 or so still.

But then I have a BFA in Creative Writing.

Gary Clarke
05-09-2008, 11:25 PM
I've read no books on writing, and I must admit that one of the reasons I've avoided them is because people do seem to spend a lot of time reading about writing, and not actually writing.

Not only that, but they seem make people second guess themselves a lot.

Based only on my very limited experience, I think that, when used the wrong way, books on writing can constipate a writer and fill them with indecision... however, as one of the posters here said, reading novels, any novels, in both an analytical way and just for fun, does the opposite.

Just write, Justjess, if the rule book bungs you up, then throw the rule book out the window. Tell yourself a story that really excites you and then write it down. After it's finished and you're going back to polish the first draft, find yourself an honest beta who's writing you really admire and get them to show you where they think you went wrong.

Come on ... do it! Otherwise you'll get nothing done!

Harper K
05-09-2008, 11:50 PM
I started early. My mom bought me Marion Dane Bauer's What's Your Story? for my 9th or 10th birthday, and shortly after that I bought Joel Saltzman's If You Can Talk, You Can Write on my own. I LOVED that book. I must have read it once a week, every week, for a long time. I made my way through most of the 808s in the library -- books on short story writing, novel writing, grammar, plotting, character archetypes, creating suspense, everything.

I can't for sure say that doing that didn't help me, as it certainly solidified my desire to write, and to try to submit and sell my work eventually, but often when I read one of those books my actual writing time dropped dramatically. I think I idealized the process so much that I was disappointed when the product of that process was sort of... lackluster. And this was after reading that "Shitty First Drafts" chapter in Anne Lamott's book about a billion times. It seemed to have the opposite effect on me than was intended. Oops?

(One of the things I remember from the Saltzman book is that "a good novel is only possible after one has given up and let go." I think, for me, writing anything was only possible once I had given up and let go of writing books.)

What does get me fired up to write, and what actually drives me toward writing shitty first drafts and having marathon writing sessions, is reading good books in my genre. You're on the right track there, JustJess. I think you can learn far more about POV and such just by absorbing it through fiction than by a nonfiction book trying to describe it to you. For me these days, fiction + AW is my writing instruction combination.

05-09-2008, 11:53 PM
I have maybe a dozen books on writing, and I don't consider any of them how-to manuals or rule books. I think I'd avoid anything that tells me what to avoid or what POV to use.

On Writing and Bird by Bird are favorites, and I like Natalie Goldberg's books as well. I don't think I've gotten "this is how you write" from any of them, but each has had something that gets the writing gears in my head moving, which I think is a good thing.

I don't think reading books on writing keep you from actually writing unless you let them. I read cookbooks and I still cook. I think most people are smart enough to know that you actually have to go into the kitchen and turn on the burners eventually. And that most recipes are best experimented with, too.

05-10-2008, 12:27 AM
I have many, but I've read few. For some reason, I got these sorts of books as gifts when I was younger. Of those that I did read, I didn't retain much of the information. Only two are notable:

The Art of Fiction, John Gardner
Writing the Novel, Lawrence Block

But you know which were best for me? Anthologies of short stories and novellas. They helped me put my work in the context of the development of my preferred genres (sf/f), to see how I differ from those who came before and how I can push the genres in the direction I want them to go. They exposed me to new examples of voice, style, and structure; and they showed me which things have been done to death and are therefore not worth retreading.

Reading widely in your genres, especially things you would never ordinarily read, is important.

05-10-2008, 12:31 AM
I've read a few, but mostly the author-penned ones like King's. Not so much as a manual or anything, just as kind of a peek inside their head and so therefore mostly for fun. :)

05-10-2008, 12:32 AM
When I first decided that I really wanted to submit my writing, I didn't want to belong to a writer's group. I went to a library and took out as many books as I could on writing. I read anything about writing I could get my hands on. So I'd say maybe twenty books.

05-10-2008, 01:08 AM
Probably too many to count. The ones I have kept are ones that inspire me to get back to writing. I am currently in love with 3 A.M Epiphany by Brian Kiteley because it consists entirely of writing exercises and prompts. When I find myself feeling stuck, there is usually something there to help me get writing again.

Also, there are plenty of books about the business end of writing that I keep close at hand. Writer's Market, How to Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer, and Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript are the ones sitting next to my desk right now.

Dale Emery
05-10-2008, 01:24 AM
So how many (if any) have you read? What has been your experience with them-do you find the suggestions easy to implement? Or do you primarily read for inspiration as opposed to instruction?

I have about 140 on my shelves now. I've read about 60, and skimmed or started about 30 of the others.

I read for instruction, which tends to inspire me. Each bit of instruction leads me to another, "Ah, yes, I know how to do that." Then I "do that" for a while.

Some of the books don't connect with where I am at the moment. Some I never connect with.


05-10-2008, 01:35 AM
I have an English Degree. I have a ton of old school books, style guides, manuals, specialized dictionaries and thesauruses, some Writer's Digest books, and some writerly advice from famous writers type books like "on Writing" by Stephan King... The most important books on writing are other books by excellent writers. I have maybe 20 as well.

The one that has helped me the most is a paperback I got in College, a non-fiction called "Writing for Story" by Jon Franklin, and zissner and john williams, forgot the titles. The Writer's digest books were not very helpful-- I enjoyed the King books, and liked his advice. I don't read them for inspiration--

05-10-2008, 03:49 AM
I have about 10 remaining in my bookcase, everything from non-fiction proposal writing to the mechanics of putting together a stage play. A lot I put in my "contribute" pile and took off to the local library (we're in a poor rural county, so they're always grateful for any book that isn't 20 years old or more ...). I always hope that some slightly unusual kid in the county will pick one of them up one day, digest it, and go on to write great things some day.

05-10-2008, 04:04 AM
It's good to see that SPMiller mentioned John Gardner's book.
Another by him is "On Becoming a Novelist".

He died too young, and his books deserve to be remembered.

05-10-2008, 04:20 AM
I can't even count how many I've read. I've found them to be very helpful in some cases, and completely useless in others. The key is to make sure that you're not reading writing books so much that you're a) not reading anything else, and most importantly, b) NOT WRITING!

I ration myself. For every 1 writing book I read, I read 2 fiction novels. I also make sure I work on my WIP for a couple of hours before I sit down to read a writing book. It works for me...your mileage may vary.

I read more for inspiration than instruction (which is why "On Writing" by Stephen King is probably one of my favorites), but the instruction has helped tremendously too. Sometimes just seeing an example of how something (say, "show instead of tell") works, or having a passage broken down into what works and what doesn't, etc., helps me to understand it and implement it. "Don't use too many adverbs" is fine and dandy...a passage illustrating why overuse of adverbs doesn't work, and conservative use of them does, is very helpful. I've always been a monkey-see, monkey-do learner (let me see it done, then I get it).

So, in general, I do find writing books to be helpful, as long as the advice is taken with a grain of salt, and reading the books doesn't detract from writing time.

Matera the Mad
05-10-2008, 04:45 AM
None. Zip. Zilch. 0.

I have read some online essays and blogs.

05-10-2008, 05:25 AM
I wonder if I have the record, and there are still some on my "want list" at paperbackswap and in general. I must have two dozen on writing fiction, others on writing in general, and then there are the textbooks, refence books and things such as "The Elements of Style" 4th ed., and English "handbooks." These things jump off the thrift store shelves at me, but I put most of them back because they're usually the publisher's reference/style books that I have a more recent edition of.

Haven't read any. I'd feel silly picking them up. "But these things are for real writers."
But if you don't read these things, how do you know if you're faking it correctly?

I've probably read hundreds...I have about 30 or so still.

But then I have a BFA in Creative Writing.
I don't have an actual degree in anything, but while in college I worked toward a BFD in studying...

05-10-2008, 05:44 AM
I have 5 books on screenwriting and one on writing novels. I have both the Save the Cat books. They're pretty good for a general look at what makes for a successful screenplay.

05-10-2008, 06:38 AM
Thanks for all the feedback. I've read most of the books mentioned in this thread. Like others I especially like On Writing and Bird by Bird, though King and Lamott have very different styles. Anne Lamott seems a bit tortured by the process while Stephen King seems very "go with the flow".

I tell myself that it's ok for the first draft to be crap, but I think that by reading all of this stuff before putting pen to paper my actions are saying otherwise. I just need to trust that I've read enough great books (of fiction) to have a general sense of what to do and save all of the tips/tools/techniques for the rewrites and edits.

05-10-2008, 06:51 AM
I liked King's book, I've a handful each by Natalie Goldman and Julia Cameron more for the inspirational goads than as how-to.

Danger Jane
05-10-2008, 08:18 AM
Just On Writing by Stephen King. When I spend time searching for insightful and revelatory ideas from books on writing...I slap myself, because that means I'm not coming up with anything myself.

Course, I can see how they're useful :tongue

05-10-2008, 09:31 AM
I am quite sure that during my six years of writing classes, I read books on writing. I simply could not tell you what they were. The only book I kept was from my first year in high school (majored in writing) called "Pictures into Words." It's just a series of photos. We were given assignments to write short pieces inspired by particular pictures. Fabulous exercise. Other than that, I just write. Of course, I am not looking to write the great American novel, just a fun read, so I don't torture myself about whether or not I'm doing it right. I'm waiting until I have an agent and an editor so they can torture me.

05-10-2008, 10:11 AM
Unfortunately, I've not read a single book on writing.

I just read and write, and teach myself.

05-10-2008, 10:22 AM
Sigh. Not enough.

05-10-2008, 03:51 PM
I collect books on books, writing, and grammar... so yeah, I have a lot. 129 at present count :rolleyes: Still, in my defense, a lot of those books are by Basbanes... does that count for anything?

I think I need help...

ETA: As to how many books about writing I've read- 26. Seriously though, many of them were very entertaining.

Jessica - who still needs help with her addiction.

05-10-2008, 04:18 PM
I think it's important to read novels by authors who write in a similar way that you want to. I've done this myself, reading books by Dostoyevsky and Samuel Beckett to name a few. This has helped to solidify my voice, so that when I sit down to write I am pretty sure about what I want to say.

05-11-2008, 06:48 AM
I have four types of books that clutter my shelves: writing, cooking, dieting (yes, much needed after all the cooking) and finance. I read them all and come back to them but as others have said they are references not manifestos.

05-11-2008, 07:03 AM
I don't think I've ever read a book on "how to write," with the possible exception of what was forced upon me in high school English.

Whatever writing ability I possess appears to have evolved naturally.

Danger Jane
05-11-2008, 07:12 AM
I don't think I've ever read a book on "how to write," with the possible exception of what was forced upon me in high school English.

Whatever writing ability I possess appears to have evolved naturally.

Ha, that's where On Writing came from, for me.

aka eraser
05-11-2008, 11:51 PM
None, unless Writer's Market counts. I bought my last edition of that one in 1999.

05-12-2008, 06:43 AM
I've not read any of those books. I'd rather spend time reading other books.

I do look up some questions on the 'net, but they're things that don't need a whole book. Like how to do standard manuscript format and what is passive voice anyway. Looking up grammar term definitions mostly come from wanting to understand what English-trained writers were saying. I don't have anything beyond basic secondary school English.

I'm unpublished though, so that's not necessarily a good advert for the way I do things. :)

05-13-2008, 11:33 AM
None. I don't want to read any either.