Books On Writing-Good? Bad? Somewhere in between?

Posted: November 12, 2012 in Discussions, On Books, On Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

So far as literature goes, I tend to reach for fiction. However, being a writer, I do often buy/check out and read non-fiction books in order to further and better my craft. Yet there are so many books on writing out there, how do we know that we’re getting the best advice?

I find that as a rule of thumb, it’s probably best to choose something that is highly recommended, suited for your genre or writing style, and the author has a reputable opinion or career. I know, I recommend the same writing books over and over. If you’ve been following my blog, you probably know which these are by now. But just for good measure, and because I’ve recently added more books to my “Writers Must Read” list, and I’ve also been accumulating followers, here they are yet again.

The Writer’s Market (2012 Deluxe Edition) (Editor: Robert Lee Brewer-since I should give someone credit for the most useful book in the writing world)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edlestein, Ph.D.

Publication Manual of the American Psychology Association (fifth edition) by (of course) The American Psychology Association

The only one that offers an actual good read is Stephen King’s On Writing. It has a solid narrative that chronicles some of the more notable points of SK’s life, as well as his advice and views on writing. The other three are more reference books, or tool books as I call them. However, I find The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits extremely interesting to just browse. In it, the author outlines various personality types as well as influencing factors on a character’s behavior (such as emotional abandonment, mental disorders, and other issues). I’ve found that personally, the Publication Manual of the American Psychology Association, is probably the hardest to navigate out of these tool books. Don’t let the title mislead you into thinking it won’t be useful for the writer of fiction or anything besides psychology findings. There’s loads of information and tips for publishing writing. And if you don’t know anything about The Writer’s Market, and you are a writer (or are working your way there), I highly recommend at least checking it out from a library to familiarize yourself with the listings before sending a manuscript out. Be sure to check the pages in the front for tips on making your manuscript, query letters, and cover letters professional.

I find myself wondering, though, about the writing books written by less than reputable sources. I’ve come across a couple, and while I can’t remember specific titles or authors, I do distinctly remember sitting down to read them, only for the author to let me know I don’t have enough talent to make it in the literary world. I find many books on writing are snobbish and self-important. Many of these authors (I think) have been in the game so long, they don’t remember what it was like starting out. And they sit down, with ideas of helping others in mind, while they write a book on the craft that is so pretentious and rude, the new writer can hardly get through a chapter without feeling disheartened. These authors mean well, but hold literature to such a high standard, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to start a career using their advice.

Of course not all books on writing will cast self-doubt across your craft, but how do we recognize those that will before we purchase them?

My first piece of advice is to not buy ANY THING until you feel that it will help you. What’s the point in wasting your hard-earned money (especially since we’re all starving, right?) on something that will only make you feel worse about your work? So you’re going to want to talk to other writers about books on writing they’d recommend, and hit up your local library. I checked out SK’s On Writing, and read the whole thing about a year ago, then, just recently, I ordered it off the internet. And you don’t have to read the entire thing to figure out if it’ll help you or not. Pick it up and read the couple first chapters. If after reading three or so, you feel writing is so much more a daunting task than you thought when you opened the book, it’s probably not for you. Of course, the tough love route works well for some writers, and they would be well suited to the type of book I’m warning you to avoid, however they do not work for me, and that’s all I can base my advice off: my own experiences.

The most important thing to remember when reading a book on writing is that not ALL the advice will work for EVERYONE. There is no one size fits all instruction manual for writing. It is an elusive and vastly personal craft, therefore what works for me may not work for you. Remember while reading writing books to not take every single word to heart, you could end up hurting your skills more than helping. Being that we are all different, and our writing as well, for all writers to read and follow the same writing rules would be disastrous. We’d all write the same. There would be no variation, and no one wants a cookie-cutter book. In short, YOU are what makes your writing stand apart from others, YOU are what makes your writing special. Don’t allow the words of a self-important author who finds themself qualified to give advice to get to you. If you don’t like what the author has to say, simply close the book. YOU and YOU ALONE can recognize good advice when you read it.

I’ve just recently purchased a book titled How To Write Horror Fiction by William F. Nolan. I found it while looking for another I believe is titled On Writing Horror (or On Writing Horror Fiction, and I’m not sure who the author is), and being that the first mentioned was quite cheap and honed in on my genre, I bought it thinking it might help me a bit. I have yet to read it (it’s been a busy week), but when I do, I will share my thoughts and feelings about it with you all. That was what got me going on this topic.

What’s your opinion on books on writing? Do you think they help? Do you think they hurt? How have some writing advice books affected you, positively or negatively? Are there any books on writing that you can recommend? Have you read many books on writing? As always, please feel free to share opinions, thoughts, ideas, tips, anything. Again, I love hearing from my readers and appreciate all comments. =]


  1. Rick Mallery says:

    Wow, I really like the format and layout of your blog. Sharp!

    • Thank you. It’s one of the many templates I’d tried on for size. I think it fits my blog very well, being that it looks like pages from a notebook. I believe it’s called “Greyed” or something along those lines.

  2. cripleh says:

    William Goldman’s Adventures In The Screentrade has been the main one for me. The book that coined the phrase ‘Nobody knows anything’ regarding Hollywood.

    • I’m guessing from the title it’s about writing screenplays. I’ve never really tried my hand at writing a play or movie. I could imagine it’s quite a bit different from what I’m used to. Though that is a part of my dream for my work; to have at least one book or story made into a movie. (I’m practically obsessed with movies and TV shows), so maybe I should check out that book and try it out. It could be a skill I never knew I had.
      Thank you for the comment. I appreciate it.

  3. The Hook says:

    Great post and even greater advice!

  4. clara_w says:

    To be honest, I learn a lot more on seminars than on books about the craft. I’m a learn-while-you-do-it kindda gal.
    I’ve read on writing from SK, and while it was very good, it felt more like a memoir than a guide, to be honest.Still a great read though.

    • I’ve never been to a seminar before. I’d imagine they’re probably quite a bit more helpful than the books I read. I’d love to go to one, but since there’s never any close to where I live, I’d have to pay for gas, food, and a room on top of the seminar fee. Maybe one day I’ll find one to go to. Thanks for the comment. It’s always great to hear new opinions (my own get old after a while).

  5. There's a frog on my Sprocket! says:

    Great post and advice. I bought one book and it made me feel hopeless… Not as a person but as a writer.
    I’ll check out King’s just because he is pretty cool. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is in my top five of favorite books or at least in the top ten.
    Thanks for a great post

    • That’s exactly what I don’t like, authors that make new authors feel like it’s impossible to make it. I wonder whatever happened to that little thing that goes a long way:encouragment. I have yet to read “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon”. I was going to pick it up last time I went to the book store, but they were all out of copies. I’ll get it one day though.
      Thanks for the comment, by the way. =]

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