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scarletpeaches
07-25-2007, 04:13 PM
Opinion seems polarised on these creatures - do you have any? Have you read any? What do you think of them? Do they help or are they just a waste of time that could be better spent getting down to writing your own book?

Me, I have quite a few and I much prefer the nuts-and-bolts type 'how to write' book. No zen for me, thank you. No, "You can do it!" Well yeah, maybe, but tell me how - that'd be a bigger help than 300 pages of backslapping.

I believe there comes a point where you have to put the instruction manuals down and get on with writing your own book. You can spend too much time reading 'how to write' books that you forget to write your own. Perhaps it's fear of writing something less than perfect? I've written plenty of crap in my time so I guess I'm over that fear. But I find this kind of book interesting. They pass the time and I pick up different ideas from different authors.

And there's the point - authors. I don't trust 'how to' books written by people who've barely had one poem and a shopping list published. I need help from people who know what they're doing.

Here are the ones I own (although I've read many more):

No Plot? No Problem - Chris Baty
The Creative Writing Coursebook - Julia Bell & Paul Magrs
Ideas For Children's Writers - Pamela Cleaver
Teach Yourself: Creative Writing - Dianne Doubtfire
The Ode Less Travelled* - Stephen Fry
Write Away - Elizabeth George
Writing Down the Bones - Natalie Goldberg
On Writing - Stephen King
See Jane Write - Sarah Mlynowski & Farrin Jacobs
Teach Yourself: Writing Poetry* - Matthew Sweeney & John Hartley Williams
Need to Know? Writing Fiction - Alan Wall & Gill Paul
Teach Yourself: Writing a Novel - Nigel Watts
Wannabe a Writer? - Jane Wenham-Jones*I've included my poetry books in there because as far as I'm concerned, it's still creative writing, though in a different medium.

I didn't realise I had that many - but remember, they've been bought, read and collected over the past few years; not all at once. Perhaps if I'd read less, though, I would have written more? What do you think? Are they a delaying tactic for writers who aren't quite sure of their own technique, or a fun way to pass the time between masterpieces?

Twizzle
07-25-2007, 04:31 PM
hmmm, Write Tight, The 3 am Epiphany, Gotham Workshop, Write Brain, On Becoming a Novelist...

that's what currently on my nightstand. :)

personally, I think you learn to write by writing and reading. And reading for me includes everything I can get my little greedy hands on about writing (and the business of writing), not just novels. I also take workshops. Again, it's all about getting as many ideas and opinions I can get my hands on.

I think, though, being a good writer means reading them through, and taking what's useful and knowing what to throw out. Because you throw out a lot.

seun
07-25-2007, 04:38 PM
I've read a couple (although the only one I own is On Writing). Not a fan of the 'inspiring' books that suggest anyone who can type is a writer.

They definitely have their place but reading and writing as much as possible is the way forward for me.

mum23
07-25-2007, 05:36 PM
Don't own any or read any. Get all my advice from the guys at AW. Perhaps that's where i'm going wrong.:flag:

Celia Cyanide
07-25-2007, 06:16 PM
I've read a couple (although the only one I own is On Writing).

This is also the only one I own, and I think it's amazing. If you aren't sure if you want to check out any books about writing, I would start with this one. Even if you don't feel you've learned anything, (which is unlikely) Stephen King makes it a great read anyway.

stormie
07-25-2007, 06:24 PM
When I first set my mind to writing and submitting my work, I went to the library and took out books on writing. I did this for months. I also went on the Internet and read everything I could on writing. I joined AW, and lurked on other writer's boards.

I can't really say which book or books helped me the most. I think each one helped me in some way.

ap123
07-25-2007, 06:26 PM
I own quite a few. I've found most of them to be fairly useless. The two I have really liked are On Writing, Stephen King, and Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Browne and King.

I'll admit that I was entertained by Some Writers Deserve to Starve, Elaura Niles.

Azure Skye
07-25-2007, 07:24 PM
Holy cow. I didn't realize I had this many.

Elements of Fiction Writing (Writer's Digest Series):
Scene and Structure
Plot
Dialogue
Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
Characters and Viewpoint
Description



The Art of Styling Sentences
You Can Write a Mystery
Crafting Stories for Children
Writing for Children and Teenagers
Elements of Style
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
Gotham Writers' Workshop: Writing Fiction
Writing Great Essays
Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook
Stephen King: On Writing

Three English type books (from school) and a couple of books on grammar.

Then I have two books to help inspire: Writing Down the Bones and Room to Write. Both of which I haven't looked at in many years.

I think that's it.

Some have been very helpful like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and the two writing for kids books. Gotham Writers' Workshop has been good as well. Some of the others, I have to admit, confused me more than helped me. There is such a thing as too much information before you're ready to digest all of it.

Bubastes
07-25-2007, 08:29 PM
I've read through a lot of books (Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is still on my "to read" list), but I've kept only these:

The Lie That Tells a Truth by John Dufresne (I like this one even more than On Writing)
Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card (thank you, AW, for introducing me to this one!)
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp (not a writing book per se, but a good book about creativity)
78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might by Pat Walsh (the snarky writing keeps my diva tendencies in check)

And of course, I have my Strunk & White, my dictionary, my thesaurus, etc., but I don't count those as "how to write" books.

scarletpeaches
07-25-2007, 08:29 PM
Oh yes, I forgot that one. I also have Elements of Style. Seemed a bit American to me (well, duh) so not all the so-called rules would apply.

Soccer Mom
07-25-2007, 09:31 PM
I don't think I own any books on writing. Wait. I've got Elements of Style, but I haven't read it in like 20 years.

I tried as a teen to read a "How-To" book and it was full of stuff that didn't help me. I hated the exercises and the recommendations. (You must always keep a journal, blah, blah, blah. Yuck. Hate journalling.) So I quit reading and haven't picked up another one.

Most of what I learned about writing, I learned from reading and from being around other writers.

maestrowork
07-25-2007, 09:34 PM
I have a few. The ones that really helped me were about specific techniques and best practices: plotting, dialogue, point of views, etc.

RG570
07-25-2007, 09:44 PM
I have On Writing, Self Editing For Fiction Writers, and Writing The Breakout Novel.

Self editing . . . is the most useful one to me. Writing the Breakout Novel was very disappointing.

benbradley
07-25-2007, 10:02 PM
I have a big collection bought at thrift stores from over the years when I thought I might someday want to be a writer, but there's one I'm reading through for the second time (the only writing book I have with this distinction):

How to Write Best Selling Fiction

The author really promotes putting the screws to the reader, er uh, MC of the story, so that just at the point that things couldn't possibly get worse for the MC, they do. If I ever publish a book following this author's methods, it'll need a warning "The publisher Strongly Suggests reading of this book on a toilet, because it will scare the **** out of you."

ETA: there are copies on Amazon starting at only $80!


I don't think I own any books on writing. Wait. I've got Elements of Style, but I haven't read it in like 20 years.

I forget when the latest edition was published, but it's up to the Fourth Edition now, and also, it has two authors...

Kate Thornton
07-25-2007, 10:33 PM
I like the writing how-to books. I have read quite a few and the better ones are very entertaining (Stephen King can enthrall me with a shopping list.)

Reading and writing help me write better. I like to see what other writers think will help me - so I read them. I don't always take all of the - sometimes conflicting - advice, though.

I don't count the how-to books the same as reference books, though. Books on grammar and style, dictionaries, thesaurus stuff, works on poisons, methods of death and world-building are all in a different kettle.

Scrawler
07-25-2007, 10:37 PM
do you have any? I have a few 4-6
Have you read any? I've read many more than I own (my library has 10-15).
What do you think of them? Love them. (but I never do the exercises.)
Do they help or are they just a waste of time that could be better spent getting down to writing your own book? They have helped me immensely. I knew I could write because I've been doing it for years. But with how-to books, I've learned the craft. I may not use everything I learn but I've picked up so many great ideas and have had many Aha! moments. When I'm stuck or feel something is missing but don't know what, I'll skim a how-to book and see where it takes me.

Some of my favorites are
The Lie That Tells a Truth78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
First Aid for Fiction

RickN
07-25-2007, 10:41 PM
I love how-to-write books. I have many, ranging from the zen-type to the nuts-and-bolts type.

I will frequently sit outside on the deck in the morning with a cup of coffee, a writing pad, and one of these books. I read a couple quick exercises, write a couple of paragraphs, and I'm ready to settle down for some real work. They get me in the mood, as it were.

I have a couple that I read (The First Five Pages, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers) that I read over whenever I finish a novel and dread the edit/rewrite process.

Jamesaritchie
07-26-2007, 12:36 AM
I know beyond doubt that how-to books have helped me tremendously. My favorites are "Zen in the Art of Writing," and "On Writing." I think both have the real nuts and bolts that I need as a writer.

But there are half a dozen or so others that have also helped, and that remain in my library.

I do, however, think that how-to books are largely writer specific, and the best how-to book for a given writer is almost always one written by a writer he loved to read. If you don't like a writer's fiction, the how-to book he writes probably won't do you much good.

I believe "On Writing" is an exception here, primarily because it deals so much with basics that get overlooked, but I think it holds true for the vast majority of how-to books.

Jamesaritchie
07-26-2007, 12:40 AM
I don't think I own any books on writing. Wait. I've got Elements of Style, but I haven't read it in like 20 years.

I tried as a teen to read a "How-To" book and it was full of stuff that didn't help me. I hated the exercises and the recommendations. (You must always keep a journal, blah, blah, blah. Yuck. Hate journalling.) So I quit reading and haven't picked up another one.

Most of what I learned about writing, I learned from reading and from being around other writers.

I love keeping a journal, but any how-to book with exercises is usually one I won't follow. I love good how-to books, but I think writing exercises are a waste of time.

There are tons of how-to books that don't say anything about keeping a journal, though I still think keeping a journal is one of the smartest things any writer can do, and tons of how-to books that do not tell a writer to do writing exercises.

scarletpeaches
07-26-2007, 12:47 AM
I've never kept a diary longer than a few months. I don't want to write about myself. I want to write about other people. I can honestly say keeping a diary didn't help my writing one jot. All that teaches you is to look into yourself and while that can be useful when you're starting out on character development, it's also possible to sketch believable characters without having gazed at your own navel for a few years beforehand.

licity-lieu
07-26-2007, 01:15 AM
I've never done any writing exercises from how-to books. I have a book called 'Now Write' which devotes each chapter to a workshop style writing challenge. I've actually done some of those and found them very useful and engaging--which is unusual. Out of interest, has anyone ever done any of the 'Self Editing for Fiction Writers' exercises? I think they look good but something blocks me from giving them a go. Maybe it's the fact that the book contains the answers at the back!

Jamesaritchie
07-26-2007, 01:37 AM
I've never kept a diary longer than a few months. I don't want to write about myself. I want to write about other people. I can honestly say keeping a diary didn't help my writing one jot. All that teaches you is to look into yourself and while that can be useful when you're starting out on character development, it's also possible to sketch believable characters without having gazed at your own navel for a few years beforehand.

Try keeping a journal for ten years, and writing in it with absolute honestly. And keeping a journal should involve writing abut others as much, or more, than writing about yourself. If you really want to write about other people accurately, you first need to know yourself.

And a journal is really the only safe place there is to write about others with complete candor without getting yourself killed, or at least losing a lot of friends and family.

scarletpeaches
07-26-2007, 01:44 AM
I'd rather use the time to write books. They're the closest thing to a diary I'll ever write - and they're much more fun. And their discovery wouldn't get me shot. ;)

licity-lieu
07-26-2007, 01:54 AM
Yeah, but if you keep a blog that's kinda like a journal.

scarletpeaches
07-26-2007, 01:55 AM
Hell no...there's no full disclosure on my blog. It's censored.

If I wrote with 100% honesty, I'd spend more time writing my diary than I would my books...and like I said, they're the closest thing to a diary I'll ever write. There's bits of truth in all of them. But I'll never be more specific than that.

seun
07-26-2007, 11:52 AM
Try keeping a journal for ten years, and writing in it with absolute honestly. And keeping a journal should involve writing abut others as much, or more, than writing about yourself. If you really want to write about other people accurately, you first need to know yourself.

I kept one for 12 years and while it's great reading through it now, I'm glad I stopped when I did. It became self-indulgent and as if I was writing for an audience when I quite obviously wasn't.

Marian Perera
07-26-2007, 01:23 PM
I only have four, at least one of which is out of print.

Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
Writing to Sell by Scott Meredith
How to Write Best Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz

There's one book on writing science fiction and fantasy that I'd really like to obtain, but I can't remember who the author was. I just recall reading the book over ten years ago and coming across the advice not to use purple prose. The author illustrated this with the sentence, "The twin suns were setting like a pair of bruised crepuscular eyes."

Enraptured
07-26-2007, 04:54 PM
Most how-to-write books seem kind of elementary, from what I've found. I do have a few that I like, though. My favorite is Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. It's closely followed by How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card and Worlds of Wonder by David Gerrold.

I do keep a journal, but I don't see it as related to my fiction writing. For me the two things are completely different. I don't worry about the craft of writing in my journal; it's mostly a place for me to muse about random things and all the philosophical stuff I like to explore. When I'm first planning a new story, though, I've found that brainstorming about it in my journal can give me some good ideas.

Dave.C.Robinson
07-26-2007, 07:37 PM
I have a bunch, some of which have been much more helpful than others.

The one that helped me most was Fiction is Folks by M. Scott Peck. A very good book on character. I also liked On Writing, and think I'm in the majority there. There's also the Asimovs' How to Enjoy Writing, which is fun even if not heavy on the nuts and bolts.

I also have The Complete Guide to Editing your Fiction by Michael Seidman, which I found a mixed bag. One of his big thoughts is that an author should always retype every manuscript on the revision pass. I asked about that on Baen's Bar once and got a 700 word essay from Eric Flint explaining exactly why that was a bad idea. Seeing as I've seen Flint's name on the best seller lists and on more bookshelves than Seidman's, I'm going to follow his advice.

licity-lieu
07-27-2007, 12:28 AM
Try keeping a journal for ten years, and writing in it with absolute honestly. And keeping a journal should involve writing abut others as much, or more, than writing about yourself. If you really want to write about other people accurately, you first need to know yourself.

And a journal is really the only safe place there is to write about others with complete candor without getting yourself killed, or at least losing a lot of friends and family.

Pretty sure JAR's talking about a wrting journal as opposed to a hide- under -your- bed -so -mama- wont-see -it diary. I've got one and it really just contains words, phrases or descriptions of people I've observed. More like a notebook. I'd wager most writers have something like that. Real 'journalling' (an art which has books devoted to it) is a bit of a wank IMO. Really though, whatever gets you writing! I often use my journal/notebook to write down passages from other peoples books. It helps me to see how they've structured things.

scarletpeaches
07-27-2007, 12:30 AM
Rep point to the first person to guess which word in the above post made me laugh.

reenkam
07-27-2007, 12:39 AM
scarlet: is it "wank" by any chance?



I have a lot of writing books...but I can't remember most of the names. Some I really like, some I really don't. I remember that the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing (Evan Marshall) was interesting, but I don't think it'd work for me fully. I think I did use some of the tips, though.

licity-lieu
07-27-2007, 12:42 AM
Rep point to the first person to guess which word in the above post made me laugh.

Yeah, yeah... I know... I know, 'wager' can do that to some folk ;)

Anthony Ravenscroft
07-27-2007, 09:00 AM
I've probably got more than 30 books that could fit into "how to write." Most of 'em I've bought for less than a dollar, often at thrift shops or in outdoors bins at bookshops. Though there have been a few clunkers, they're often highly entertaining, offering a few glimpses into the writerly mind -- almost always with some degree of wit & aplomb -- & generally less disappointing & self-involved than fiction.

And if I get a nugget of wisdom, too, I'm ahead on the deal.

kg_crow
07-31-2007, 01:12 AM
Those that got rich during the California gold rush were not—for the most part—the miners, but rather those who sold picks and shovels, etc. Many have dreams and while many dreams don't pan out, someone is always there to sell you a recipe for success.

All students, like all writers, (and all teachers, for that matter), aren't created equal...as they say, "YMMV."

I'm past the "Writers Digest" stage, but still green enough that reading how others work, and what tools they use, is important to me so I appreciate AW and threads like this.

I just got "On Writing" and James MacDonald's epic thread elsewhere on this board, is a mother-load of pure gold. What I haven't found is info on police procedures and other technical details. (I have "Scene of the crime" a good place to start).

We're all looking for that nugget that brings a missing piece of the puzzle, a new perspective or the inspiration that triggers success...and gold is where you find it.

My-Immortal
07-31-2007, 01:28 AM
Rep point to the first person to guess which word in the above post made me laugh.

devoted?

pretty?

whatever?

;)

wank seemed TOO easy.

My-Immortal
07-31-2007, 01:37 AM
I have tons of these books, collected through the years (some I bought, others were gifts). They sit on my desk within reach when I need them, but I typically only 'read' them when I'm in between projects. As others have said, I take what I need from them, and leave the rest behind--like tools in a toolbox. Some you need, some you don't...but it doesn't hurt to have them around, just in case.

Take care all -

Shady Lane
07-31-2007, 02:56 AM
I'm addicted to how-to write books. I devour them. I don't always listen, but I learn something from every one.

My favorite ones I think are from that collection...They're just called: "Plot," "Character," "Description," and so forth. They all have different authors, and they're all spectacular....especally Plot.

Scribhneoir
07-31-2007, 07:35 AM
I enjoy reading how-to-write books as a genre in themselves. It doesn't matter to me if they're practical or inspirational, up-to-the-minute or hopelessly out-of-date -- I just like 'em. That's why I own a wide variety and dip into them often. Can't say I learned anything useful from The Photoplay Synopsis by A. Van Buren Powell--Hollywood's changed so much since 1919, ya know, sound and all that--but it was fun to read.

Cav Guy
07-31-2007, 05:02 PM
I have a few (King's On Writing, a book on editing fiction, Matt Braun's book on writing Westerns, one on historical fiction, and a small stack about historiography for my non-fiction), but I have to admit that to a degree I collect them as opposed to use them. King's is outstanding, as many have pointed out.

I use writing books more as prompts for techniques or possible ways to trouble-shoot something I come across in my writing. It's more of a "mix and match" affair than anything. I use some of Braun's outlining techniques combined with some from the historical fiction book. That sort of thing.

Like many others, I also find journaling to be very ego-centric, and it just doesn't work for me. I've never been able to keep one going for longer than a few months (and that includes writing journals). I prefer to focus on what I'm currently working on, although if a good idea or character pops up I do make note of it for later.

Sunnyside
08-01-2007, 12:00 AM
I'm another one in the On Writing camp. But then I'm one of those who thinks that Stephen King could make even IKEA directions interesting. But On Writing is one of those writing books that even "non-writers" can enjoy, especially in the first half, when he discusses his own career. Great stuff.

On the whole, however, I don't usually go for to "How To" or the Inspirational books. I have Zinsser's On Writing Well, but must blushingly admit to having never made it all the way through. I've got yet another, whose name escapes me because I intentionally blocked it out.

I'm not a journaler, either; I tried it for a while, but quickly learned I couldn't be honest -- I always had to make myself the hero of my own story, and tended to embellish and omit accordingly. I always worried what would happen if anyone found it! Ironic, I guess, that I write non-fiction!

CoriSCapnSkip
08-02-2007, 12:52 PM
I've read several and think Robert Newton Peck's are among the best.