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aadams73
04-19-2010, 04:08 AM
As someone who collects how-to-write books, I found this rather amusing:

How To Write in 700 Easy Lessons (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/04/how-to-write-in-700-easy-lessons/8043/)

I have to agree with this...



Read the writers themselves, whose work and example are all you really need if you want to write.

...but I still love my writing books. When I flip one open and read randomly, it almost always shakes something pertinent loose.

Matera the Mad
04-19-2010, 04:36 AM
I've found enough free material on the interwebz to flesh out my reading experience with writing tips. But I have massive reading experience. Not TV, movie, and game experience.

aadams73
04-19-2010, 04:39 AM
Oh yeah, I have tons of reading experience, too. I just consider how-to-write books to be kind of a Magic Eight-Ball for writing.

Jamesaritchie
04-19-2010, 04:54 AM
As someone who collects how-to-write books, I found this rather amusing:

How To Write in 700 Easy Lessons (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/04/how-to-write-in-700-easy-lessons/8043/)

I have to agree with this...



...but I still love my writing books. When I flip one open and read randomly, it almost always shakes something pertinent loose.

Buy the how-to books. That article is nothing but false snobbishness. Pure silliness.

leahzero
04-19-2010, 05:26 AM
This article article is dead-on.

You won't learn how to write a great novel from reading how-to-write books. You'll learn it from reading great novels.

Bartholomew
04-19-2010, 07:02 AM
There are too many “how-to” books on the market, and too many would-be writers are reading these books in the mistaken idea that this will teach them to write. I never read such a book in my life, and I never will.

And thus he has no idea what he's talking about. :).

NicoleMD
04-19-2010, 07:03 AM
Some people learn by reading novels. Some people learn by reading how-to books on writing. Some people learn to write by simply writing. I don't think there's a wrong way, and they're definitely not mutually exclusive. Though unlike the other methods, there's a point where how-to books start to become a detriment instead of being helpful. I've got about 8, which I don't think is particularly obsessive.

Nicole

PoppysInARow
04-19-2010, 07:21 AM
I think some of you missed this paragraph:



Now, I’m not speaking about books dealing with the aesthetics of the task, or with essays about the craft and critical analysis of examples of it—and we have several very fine volumes in that vein (Charles Baxter’s Burning Down the House and John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction come to mind)—no, I’m talking about straight how-to books, most of which claimed to offer shortcut advice, practical instructions on “writing your say the genre,” and even in some cases “secrets” of the novelist’s or story writer’s or poet’s trade.


I agree about his views here. Reading books like "The Art of Fiction" is great; I've enjoyed many of these how-to books myself. But when you rely solely on these books to teach you how to write, you don't learn anything. You have to step out of the how-to section, read books you like. See what other authors are doing.

You have to teach yourself how to write-- by reading the stuff you want to write, writing over and over and over, and getting feedback on what works and what doesn't.

NicoleMD
04-19-2010, 07:31 AM
I think some of you missed this paragraph:


I don't get the distinction. If he's saying "only read good how-to" books, then what's the point of the article?

Nicole

Phaeal
04-19-2010, 10:13 PM
Meh, I read it all, great literature, pure escapism and how-tos. Why should I stick to just one or the other?

I prefer the how-tos that are gossipy and expansive, that make you feel like you're hanging around with someone else who loves writing and brings to it her own quirky working knowledge and hard-won wisdom. The overly prescriptive ones do tend to get boring.

To all how-tos, one must apply the same caveat: Advice is only as good for me as it works for me.

Unless I missed it in my skimming, the article writer missed McCormack's The Fiction Editor, the Novel and the Novelist in his list of "good" writing books. One of my favorites.

dgiharris
04-19-2010, 10:39 PM
I said, “Damn.” That was what came out of me. We were looking at 50 different titles—a lot. More than I would’ve believed existed. And in the next moment, she offered me $10,000 to write one. “Really,” she said. “These kinds of books sell better than the fiction books.”



I have to throw the bullshit flag on this. Someone just willy nilly offers him $10K to write a how to book when she already sells hundreds of them? Also, said person has never read anything from him. Yeah, right...

Anyways, I tried to read the article but I found myself skimming it.

I find articles of this type are just pretentious dribble.

How-to-books are extremely helpful just as great novels are extremely helpful just as writing groups are extremely helpful.

Sure, there are authors that prefer one or the other or only did one or all three...

I just find it annoying when people use strawman type arguments like Julie didn't read a how-to-book and she is a best selling author therefore how-to-books are a waste of time.

I will put it out there that knowledge in any form is helpful. Now, in some cases and for some people, certain types of knowledge will be more helpful than others...

Anyways, trying to dismiss how-to-books as unnecessary is just plain silly.

They are helpful.

Mel...

Becky Black
04-19-2010, 11:03 PM
I'd add that one thing about how to books that you can use in conjunction with reading good fiction too is that how to books contain lots of examples and explanations of how the writer has created the effect they were going for. Reading these explanations helps you to then read novels, or indeed experience any kind of storytelling, with more of an awareness of how the writers is doing what they are doing, which you of course can then take a lesson from yourself.

jerry phoenix
04-20-2010, 09:50 AM
i read lots of tips online when i was a raw beginner. the only howtobook i have read is Dorothea Brande's becoming a writer. i might read another but im not rushing out to buy one, im a bit busy writing.

that writer, the 700tips guy, is just trying to show off. i would bet shakespeare (all eight of him) had some help and advice at some point

dpaterso
04-20-2010, 11:40 AM
I have to agree with this...

Read the writers themselves, whose work and example are all you really need if you want to write.
Yup. When I decided I wanted to write like my favorite authors, I read all my favorite authors' novels.

(Just don't ask "How's that worked out for you so far?" The execution may be crap but the theory is rock solid.)

-Derek

Linda Adams
04-20-2010, 02:53 PM
How-to-books are extremely helpful just as great novels are extremely helpful just as writing groups are extremely helpful.



I've found that, for me, the bolded part is not true. I learned how to write when I was eight. I didn't even know how-to books existed; I just had the examples in the books I was reading. As an adult, I did read them, and often kept thinking, "But that's not the way I do it!" When I ran into a really thorny problem--subplots--I scoured every how-to book I could find and couldn't find any clue to what was causing the problem. It was very frustrating because these were the only sources, and I didn't understand any better what the problem was. Even the most highly recommended books did not help. And all I was looking for was one sentence, one clue to what the problem was. (The problem was an organizational issue. So all the methods of getting from point a to point b stated in the how-to books were completely wrong to help me get there.)

Likewise, when I wanted to learn techniques on writing omniscient viewpoint, the best I could find was descriptions of the viewpoint and that no one uses it any more. I even found one book that gave a very short paragraph and simply said, "Don't use it!" These books are why I didn't even think about trying it in the first place! I ended up searching for books written in the viewpoint and studying the wording choices.

So, while I still look at the how-to books, I've stopped spending my money on them. Not worth it to be told I can't do something that's right for me.

dgiharris
04-20-2010, 10:20 PM
So you had a problem, went to a how-to-book to solve that problem, the how-to-book didn't have any advice on your problem, therefore how-to-books aren't useful?

My sister had an illness. She went to the hospital. The hospital did not have a treatment for her illness and told her to go home and that her body would take care of itself in a few days. Therefore, hospitals aren't useful.

Mel...

timewaster
04-21-2010, 01:34 AM
I think the issue is that there is a subset of people who want to write without ever having read. I found this quite weird personally. Most writers I know are self taught - (which reflects my UK bias and my age) and for us, writing without a passion for reading is like a naturist wanting to be a dress designer. I'm not sure that he was knocking the idea of discussing the business of writing, only the idea that some kind of writing by numbers advice could ever be a substitute for reading 'real' books.

Linda Adams
04-21-2010, 02:23 AM
So you had a problem, went to a how-to-book to solve that problem, the how-to-book didn't have any advice on your problem, therefore how-to-books aren't useful?

Uh, that's not what I said. I don't find the how-to books particularly helpful because they often go against my writing process or tell me things I already know.

And, despite the fact I haven't found them overall helpful, I still turned to them when I had problems (and more problems than what I listed) to try to figure out how to solve them, with about the same results.

After all, why buy a how-to book unless it's either to learn something new or solve a problem? Granted, I have problems in strange areas, and my writing process is probably off in the Twilight Zone--but it all goes back to what's a good use of my time and money.

Ruth2
04-23-2010, 07:17 AM
When I was younger and wanting to write, I found the best how-to books for me were the ones that made me put the book down and pick up my pen. A lot of books are out there but only a few made me want to write. Those were the ones I kept.

RJK
05-01-2010, 09:52 PM
I'll use an analogy. You wouldn't learn to drive by only observing other drivers. If you did, stop signs would be suggestions to stop, speed limits would mean 55 MPH plus or minus 15, unless you're in a really big hurry, then go for it. You get my point. You need to read the instruction manual.

The same applies to writing, you need to learn the rules of the road from some source, a teacher, a how-to book, a writing group, or someone who will explain what is right or wrong about what you've written. Once you've learned the rules, you can observe (read other authors (hopefully good ones)), to learn how they apply the rules to their work.

Libbie
05-02-2010, 08:12 PM
That was an awesome article. I read it carefully. Some good stuff all up ins.

Libbie
05-02-2010, 08:15 PM
I think some of you missed this paragraph:



I agree about his views here. Reading books like "The Art of Fiction" is great; I've enjoyed many of these how-to books myself. But when you rely solely on these books to teach you how to write, you don't learn anything. You have to step out of the how-to section, read books you like. See what other authors are doing.

You have to teach yourself how to write-- by reading the stuff you want to write, writing over and over and over, and getting feedback on what works and what doesn't.

Yes, exactly. The author of the article wasn't implying that no how-to-write book has any merit. He was saying that the ones that promise if you just follow all the steps in the book, you'll be a writer -- those are bullshit.

Books such as The Art of Fiction that help teach the reader the skills of self-analysis and self-critique are immeasurably valuable. Books that give you a magic formula have likely never been solely responsible for any successful writer.

timewaster
05-02-2010, 11:19 PM
I'll use an analogy. You wouldn't learn to drive by only observing other drivers. If you did, stop signs would be suggestions to stop, speed limits would mean 55 MPH plus or minus 15, unless you're in a really big hurry, then go for it. You get my point. You need to read the instruction manual.

The same applies to writing, you need to learn the rules of the road from some source, a teacher, a how-to book, a writing group, or someone who will explain what is right or wrong about what you've written. Once you've learned the rules, you can observe (read other authors (hopefully good ones)), to learn how they apply the rules to their work.

But as a large number of published writers have learned to write by reading other writers doing it obviously isn't a valid analogy.' How to books' help some people - i think that's the most that can be said. I don't know a single published writer of fiction who isn't also (or has been) an avid reader of other fiction.