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Old 06-07-2018, 05:09 AM   #1
Mivo
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Smile Books on writing

Many of us probably own a potentially embarrassing number of books that deal with the craft of writing. Unsurprisingly, I have bought more than I have actually studied. My usual routine is that I pick up a new writing book and by the time it arrives, I have convinced myself that the best way to improve is by reading, and that method books are distracting and a form of procrastination. (I buy most non-fiction books in paper format, so it always takes a bit before they get here.)

My latest purchases include: Steering The Craft (Ursula Le Guin), Sin And Syntax (Constance Hale), The Making Of A Story (Alice LaPlante), Reading Like A Writer (Francine Prose), Monkeys With Typewriters (Scarlett Thomas), and Zen in the Art of Writing (Ray Bradbury). The ones I already own, well, too many to list! I intend to actually read through those I mentioned (here we go, a public declaration!), as some kind of DIY "course". (I got the idea from this blog.)

Are there any books on writing that you particularly loved and learned much from? (Those may be different answers. I greatly enjoyed reading Stephen King's On Writing, and found it immensely entertaining, but it was inspiring more than it was educating.)
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Old 06-07-2018, 02:00 PM   #2
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Are there any books on writing that you particularly loved and learned much from? (Those may be different answers. I greatly enjoyed reading Stephen King's On Writing, and found it immensely entertaining, but it was inspiring more than it was educating.)
I haven't read many. I liked Stephen King's On Writing. One I remember from way back when was Sweet Agony – A Writing Manual of Sorts, by Gene Olsen. I don't think it's available as an eBook. It looks like they put out Sweet Agony II about ten years later, but I haven't read that one (also doesn't appear to be available as an eBook). When I was "self-publishing" (so to speak) a small press magazine, I had a trio of Element books that were pretty good – Elements of Style, Elements of Grammar and Elements of Editing. It looks like there are two Elements of Grammar now. Not sure which one I had. At the time they were all in matching covers (kind of promoted as a set). It doesn't look like they do that now.
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Old 06-08-2018, 04:50 PM   #3
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Most recently I enjoyed the "War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. I like being told all my excuses are BS, a less mystical "do or do not, there is no try."
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Old 06-08-2018, 08:37 PM   #4
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I really like "Fiction is Folks" by Robert Newton Peck.
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Old 06-09-2018, 03:48 AM   #5
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I have read a lot of books and articles about writing over the years, but most of them have been so eminently forgettable that I could not tell you the names or authors. I liked and enjoyed Stephen King's On Writing mostly as a memoir and a look at the way he works/thinks, I can't say I found it all that helpful to my writing.

The most obviously useful book on writing that I own is a recent purchase: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. It's similar in nature to a lot of other books I've tried, but this one worked for me - fit with my way of thinking - so much better than anything else I had read in a very long time.

Most of the rest (that I have read) I would put down as being excellent for their purpose - procrastination machines that help us to avoid getting down to the job of actually writing and/or publishing - but not all that useful in terms of making us better or more successful writers. That doesn't mean they were not interesting in their own way, but interesting and useful are different things.
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Old 06-09-2018, 10:36 PM   #6
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How to Write Best Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz (1981)

Quite old now, but invaluable in working out structuring, pacing, characterisation: the fundamentals of a novel whether best-selling or not. Deals with viewpoint, multiple viewpoints, dialogue, first/third person, endings, and all sorts of other stuff you might not think about. Including the importance of getting details right (research) and grammar right, too.

(It didn't help me write a best selling novel; I was just curious to see what he had to say when I bought the book. I'm more a non-fiction writer.)
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Old 06-10-2018, 12:52 AM   #7
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[...] I intend to actually read through those I mentioned (here we go, a public declaration!), as some kind of DIY "course". (I got the idea from this blog.) [...]
A lot of what you need to know you can discover by paying attention while reading in your own genre, but it certainly does help to become familiar with what things you should be looking out for. So while I might not have said flattering things about such books in my last post, they certainly have some value: they offer you tools you can practice with.

We all learn in different ways, but I think there is a common factor in anything to do with the arts and other complicated skills: LOTS OF IT!

There is just so much to consider with regard to writing that I don't think anyone can consciously manage it all in one go. What happens, instead, is that you practice and learn, and practice and learn, and practice and learn, until chunks of it become second nature. Slowly, more and more of it becomes just part of how you write and you can spend less time worrying over technicalities and more time expressing yourself.
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Old 06-10-2018, 04:42 PM   #8
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I'd like to say a quick word in favour of Ursula le Guin's 'Steering the Craft' (which I see you own). I read this just as I was starting creative writing. It contains a number of exercises: it's really worth the effort to treat these seriously.

The obvious problem with nearly all these books is that they're inevitably generalised. I suspect that what each of us really needs is personalized, individualised advice from the right tutor or mentor, not general advice.
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Old 06-11-2018, 02:01 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Pulpmeister View Post
How to Write Best Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz (1981)

Quite old now, but invaluable in working out structuring, pacing, characterisation: the fundamentals of a novel whether best-selling or not. Deals with viewpoint, multiple viewpoints, dialogue, first/third person, endings, and all sorts of other stuff you might not think about. Including the importance of getting details right (research) and grammar right, too.

(It didn't help me write a best selling novel; I was just curious to see what he had to say when I bought the book. I'm more a non-fiction writer.)
It does cover some good stuff in thumbnail though.
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Old 06-11-2018, 04:38 AM   #10
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I do have a prejudice with regard to books about writing: books by successful writers offer a level of credibility that is less apparent in books by people that have not achieved success in writing fiction. A book about editing by editors seems credible, but a book about writing good narrative fiction, by someone that doesn't seems much less credible. They might have spent a lifetime studying what makes for good narrative fiction, but if they haven't done it for themselves I am much less inclined to think they will be helpful.

It's like cook books by people that aren't chefs. Or money making books by people that aren't rich. Why should I believe they know what they are saying? In many cases they probably do know - perhaps even more because they have spent their time learning about it rather than wasting time doing it - but without knowing them personally I have no reason to assume they aren't just making it up as they go.
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Old 06-11-2018, 04:54 AM   #11
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I do have a prejudice with regard to books about writing: books by successful writers offer a level of credibility that is less apparent in books by people that have not achieved success in writing fiction.
I admittedly agree with that view and I'm more likely to take advice from someone who accomplished professional success in the field they teach, but I'm not sure it's necessarily a flawless take. For example, there are renowned football and soccer coaches of world class teams who never successfully played in a professional league, which implies that it is possible to teach a skill without having first hand experience in mastering it on the practical level. Teaching seems to be largely (or at least in part) about motivating the student and pointing them in the right direction. We still have to learn the skill by ourselves.
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Old 06-11-2018, 06:59 AM   #12
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Yep, definitely not flawless - that's part of why I referred to it as a prejudice. Teaching is a skill in and of itself. Many professionals are absolutely lousy teachers.

The second reason why I consider my reaction to be prejudiced is that I have a thing about self-help books (I treat them all as guilty until proven innocent) ... and I'm not sure where to get help for the problem.

Last edited by gmw; 06-11-2018 at 07:01 AM.
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Old 06-13-2018, 02:16 PM   #13
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I'm not an author but the class that Brandon Sanderson teaches at BYU was interesting for me to watch.
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Old 06-15-2018, 04:30 PM   #14
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I thought The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass had a lot of good stuff in it.
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