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  1. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    What writing books do you recommend?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by funkybassmannick, Apr 6, 2011.

    Hey, all. I was just reading a post by Tesoro who mentioned she reads a lot of books on writing, and that it's helped her out a lot. I've only bought one, and I didn't find it all that helpful and thus I've been hesitant to buy another.

    Are there any books on improving writing that you guys found really helpful and would recommend? If so, please give a description of the book and why you found it helpful.
     
  2. CriminallyVu1gar
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    CriminallyVu1gar Member

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    I have Your Novel Proposal From Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook. It's more of a guide through the querying process than a book on the writing itself, but hopefully still helpful. :)
     
  3. nastyjman
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    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne. Book says it all. It helped me evaluate my rough draft and root out sentences and paragraphs that cluttered the flow. Very helpful since re-writing is a vital part of writing.

    Curious: what book did you get?
     
  4. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have read quite a few books, but not all of them were any good. The best of them all was "techniques of the selling writer" by Dwight Swain. I also read some book that had a similar title to that one named above, it was something like "Revision & self-editing" by James Scott Bell. I want to read the elements of style that I've heard people talking about plus that "self editing for fiction writers" above. I have to say that books like this in my own language are non-existent, at least the don't have the same quality, they speak more in general about i and doesn't go into details.
    The first of these was really good because it really breaks down writing to its pieces, explains the whys and hows and whats and whens in a way I found very useful. PLUS its free from all of these long texts from other books to serve as examples, something I hate. I read "write away" by elizabeth george and it was just too much of this and most of the time I didn't see what she was trying to point out in the example. it was just plain boring, I think.
     
  5. K.S.A.
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    K.S.A. Member

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    'The College Handbook of Creative Writing' by Robert DeMaria talks about the different forms of writing & breaks it down with excerpts from much-admired pieces like 'The Lottery'. It also has exercises at the end of each chapter, which make you apply what you have learnt, with a little "push" at the back of the book to help you along the way.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i don't ever recommend reading how-to's to learn how to write, other than for screenwriting, or writing song lyrics...

    imo, it's a waste of time one should be spending on reading the best works by the best writers, which has always been the best way to learn how to write...

    as for 'the spirit' of writing, i'd recommend only kilpatrick's classic 'the writer's art' and campbell's seminal work, 'the hero with a thousand faces' for would-be fiction writers...
     
  7. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    The Scene Book is the only one I've ever personally been willing to recommend.
     
  8. flanneryohello
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    flanneryohello Member

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    A waste of time? There are some excellent books on writing out there, many of which have enlightened or inspired me along the way. Writing is a craft, and like any craft, one needs to practice and hone their skills to be any good at it. All writers should most definitely read voraciously, but simply reading the "best works by the best writers" won't necessarily teach one how to write. You can read a terrific book and know that it works, but not necessarily know how or why it works. A good writing book will break down the elements of effective storytelling and allow amateur writers to know what to look for when evaluating both their own work and the work of others.

    Again, I do think that reading good writing is essential for amateur writers, but it's not the only useful or helpful thing. Let's think about that concept from a different angle: I could look at the work of famous photographers and perhaps try to emulate their best shots, but until I acquire a deep understanding of the principles and techniques of photography, and learn how to use all the features on my fancy camera, all I'm really doing is mimicking those who know what they're doing.

    Some of my favorite books are:

    "On Writing" by Stephen King
    "Stein on Writing" by Sol Stein
    "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott

    Definitely not wastes of my time.
     
  9. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    Reading the published works of the non brand name authors winning current market share is a great teaching tool, in so far as tone, voice, pacing etc.

    The caveat however would be understanding unknowns are not afforded
    the wide bearth allowed to the millon dollar producer, ex: Salman Rushdie , Anne Rice, Stephen King etc.

    Two cool writing exercise books
    "The 3 am Epiphany "
    "What would your characters do ? "
     
  10. Terry D
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    Terry D Active Member

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    For years the mystery writer Lawrence Block wrote the fiction 'how-to' column for Writer's Digest magazine. He has an excellent way of breaking down the nuts and bolts of the craft. His works aren't in the style of "do this, don't do that", but rather they explain what works for him and why, and he discusses alternatives. All three of the following have been helpful to me:

    Telling Lies for Fun and Profit
    Spider, Spin Me a Web
    Writing the Novel from Plot to Print

    It's all no-nosense, practical advice.
     
  11. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    The sentiment to just read the best works is great, but many aspiring writers don't know how to study such texts. A lot of times they don't even understand how they're good, and can't get beyond the simplistic 'I did/didn't like it,' and don't seem too keen on going beyond that.

    Having worked with hundreds of aspiring writers in formal educational settings, I can tell you it's mostly an issue with motivation. You'll have one student who'll read a story over and over, each time uncovering technique and craft and figuring out how the story is working. These students usually don't need instructive books on how to write.

    Then, you'll have the students who don't read a story over and over and study it. For them, they do need how-to-write books, because they're not willing to do it on their own. The catch-22 is such students are also not internalizing and studying the how-to-write book either, so are now equiped with all the terms and phrases, seem informed on writing craft, but haven't been willing to study, so in the end have no effing clue what they're talking about. These types of aspiring writers are actually very detrimental to a writing community or class because they SEEM to be informed, and love to parrot all the terms and concepts they've read about, but really aren't informed and still don't understand the craft of fiction on deeper levels. (This phenomenon can be seen in just about every fiction forum/site in every thread, where people repeat things they've heard--oh, oh, you should show don't tell!!1--and really have little insight beyond that writing book they read).

    There are a small percentage of writing students who I've seen do benefit from how-to-write books, but they're usually students in the first, willing-to-study category, and would have figured these things out pretty soon on their own anyway, and in figuring them out the lessens will be stronger. In these cases, the how-to-write books can actually derail their learning a bit, too, as how-to-write books, when compared to actual fiction that is successful and good, can be confusing. There are so many exceptions to the rules, that how-to-write books either become confusing, discredit their own messages, or require a mentor to pick up where the how-to-write books leave off (which often have to do with explaining all the exceptions that exist to the alleged 'rules' these books purport).

    There's a reason that in years of taking fiction classes and working with fiction professors in their classes, that I've never seen a single one assign any close to resembling an instructive how-to-write book. The only one I've ever seen be even remotely helpful is The Scene Book, which isn't so much a prescriptive 'show, don't tell' book as one that describes and breaks down techniques and methods (and no, 'show, don't tell' is neither). Mostly, these books just raise a lot of questions.

    The professors I've worked with (all critically acclaimed and/or best selling writers or editors themselves) all cite how their fiction classrooms basically just turned into a question/answer session about how the how-to-write books often don't really match up well to what students are actually seeing in fiction they're reading. Meaning, the classes became less about teaching craft, and more about explaining all the exceptions to the rules that the how-to-write books conveniently leave out.

    A good how-to-write book would be a companion text that looked at specific stories and explained how and why the stories work. The notion one could even summarize and deconstruct the craft of fiction well enough to make a single definitive and instructive manual is ridiculous. These books are popular, though, as there are tons of aspiring writers out there wanting to be writers, and their first lesson after buying these books ends up being that being a writer is often more about marketing and selling books, than producing a quality product.

    The best thing one can do after reading one of these books is remind themselves that it doesn't mean they actually know a damn thing, and to keep reading and listening and certainly not going around reporting all the things they think they now know, because trust me, there's a lot more to learn that the terms and concepts outlined in most of these how-to-write book.
     
  12. flanneryohello
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    flanneryohello Member

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    Hmm...maybe the way I've read books on writing is different than others. Honestly, I never read an actual "how-to" book on writing until after I was published. In fact, it was after I worked extensively with my first editor and learned a ton in the process. That was a point when I was really starting to tighten up my craft and turn the talent I had into more disciplined skill. Books on writing were helpful at that time because much of what I read had already either occurred to me or had been explained to me by my editor, so reading it again, with examples, was good reinforcement. Other parts of those books provided inspiration. Not because they were teaching me anything revolutionary or that I hadn't seen in good writing already, but because they encouraged me to think about how to apply certain techniques and concepts to my own writing.

    I think writers, like people, are individuals. :) Some writers will find writing books helpful, some won't. Some can just pick and choose what works for them, and others might risk getting too hung up in the theory of it all.

    I'm actually surprised to hear so many writers here who don't care for books about writing. Most of the books on writing that I've enjoyed have talked not only about craft issues, but also just the nature of writing and being a writer. I enjoy reading that. Writing is such a solitary activity, so it's nice to feel that connection with someone who loves the same thing you do, and experiences the same struggles. That's the reason people visit forums, I think. ;)
     
  13. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Totally agree with you. I think they just want to believe they are so talented that they don't need any instructions ;)
    :rolleyes:
    I'm not ashamed to say I find these books helpful, since i'm not a very analytical reader or a good student either. While reading one of these books I suddenly became aware of the meaning of the things some other books had tried to explain in a poor way without success. CAll me a never-gonna-be-writer if you want, I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting to study the craft to learn it better. In no other "profession" people expect one to be good at it without allowing any studies to become so. Why should writing be any different? Sure, some people are more talanted than others but I still think even they will have to study to some extent to develope their full potential.
     
  14. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    The problem, imo, is that most of these books have little to do with studying the craft of fiction, and everything to do with feeding easy answers to aspiring writers with a few dollars to spend. I believe studying fiction is absolutely essential to the development of a writer, but in my own studying (of fiction writing and teaching) I've come to find these books pretty useless in most cases when it comes to studying and improving craft.

    They're at times decent for inspiration and entertaining as memoirs, at times, as is the case of On Writing which I enjoyed immensely for the memoir and inspiration aspects. As far as a study of craft, it was a joke.
     
  15. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree on "on writing", for study purpose i was worthless. And I have read quite a few bad books about writing too. The est one was the one I mentioned in my previous post (1st page). It was so good that Im rereading it to make sure I can absorb every thing it can teach me. Because while reading it I keep getting ideas on how to apply stuff to my own writing/story and how to make it better. I know what you mean when you said that most of the time goes to explaining to the students te thngs they have read but not quite understood, that is the worst part of many of these books.
    Apart from that I like reading this kind of books because of the feeling of how each and every writer works and because it's nice to share their thoughts and ideas on being a writer, some writes about their routines etc, and that's just a fun read, the same way I like reading about people who has left their country of origin to go live abroad, because I have done the same thing and it's fun to share their experiences on it.
     
  16. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    1) I believe that the more you learn about a craft through non-fiction how-to's, the better you will be able to analyze other people's craft. I believe it's the same for writing, music composition, and even athletics.

    2) Can we move the discussion to books or other resources on writing that people would recommend, and away from which books and resources people would NOT recommend? Thanks for giving your input, though.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Thread locked and infractions issued (and several posts deleted).
     
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