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  1. Noir

    Noir Member

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    Books About Writing

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Noir, Dec 8, 2019.

    I've heard a lot of different opinions concerning guides that are meant to teach how to be a better writer. Some people loathe them and brush them off as money-grabbing self-help style books while others swear by them. Most people I've spoken to seem to land somewhere in the middle of those two ideals.

    Don't worry, I'm not looking for any suggestions. I'm just wondering how you feel about these writing guides. If you like them, do you have any favorites? Do you think the helped you become a better writer? Also, are there any that you feel are all flash and no substance?

    Personally, I've always been suspicious of these promise-making titles (how to write a novel in a month, for example or seven ways to get published). There are only two that I've read and really like and a couple of others that I'd like to read but haven't yet.

    I really enjoy A Field Guide to Writing Fiction by A.B. Guthrie Jr. It's forty chapters but only 99 pages long. A couple of the chapters are only a half-page long. It taught me a lot when I first read it and I still have that same copy all these years later (it's out of print but I found mine easily enough and for an affordable price). It's something that I would recommend to any beginner writer but I think it offers all of the basic tips that you can find anywhere on the Web (especially right here).

    The other book is hardly what I would consider a writing guide but rather an autobiography of the author's life and career as a writer (with a few tips here and there) and that's Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I own the paperback but I also just recently finished listening to the audio version (King reads it himself and I think he does a fantastic job). I'm not even a fan of his work (I did enjoy his Dark Tower series but not enough that I'd want to re-read it the way I have other, equally long or longer series) but I respect that he does have a talent even if it's not to my taste and I'd be foolish to think that I couldn't learn something from the man.

    Other titles I'd like to give a go are The Art of Fiction by John Gardner and The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. (each one recommended by Guthrie and King, respectively).

    (This seemed like the best place for this thread, wasn't too sure)
     
  2. Dogberry's Watch

    Dogberry's Watch Member

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    I find writing guides or books about writing to be a bit "take it with a grain of salt," because it's essentially an art form, and writers should feel free to express their art how they want to. That said, if you're not at all confident in your own writing, or you want to study theory or learn more about other aspects of it for the fun of knowing your art inside and out, then I find them valuable. They're like supplements to what I already know I want to do with my story telling.

    I'm not a fan of On Writing, by Mr. King. I found it to be excessively self-congratulating. "Look at how much I've written. I'm so great. Also I got hit by a car." I'm not trying to make light of that last part, and I fully respect that he's written so much, but he follows a formula in his stories and people seem to like formulaic writing sometimes, so I give credit where it's due, but no further. He promotes himself as this all knowing being of writing, when some of the best advice I've gotten is from much more humble sources.

    Some books that I did find useful recently are:

    Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times: A Collection of All Original Essays from Today's (and Tomorrow's) Young Authors on the State of the Art --and the Art of the Hustle--in the Age of Information Overload, Edited by Kevin Smokler.

    As the title suggests, it's lengthy discussion on what it's like to write for today's audiences when we live in a world of "give me the punchline now" kind of a society. The authors of each essay are no older than 40, so it's more of a perspective of people from my generation (grew up in the 90s, before internet really exploded and so on). Not all of the essays are helpful, in my opinion, but I can't remember which ones I didn't find helpful, so maybe whoever reads it will find it better.

    Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

    This one is on my list because as useful as Elements of Style is, this goes further into the mechanics of the language I write in, English, and it is presented in a more modern way. I think all writers should strive for some sort of standard of grammar, with exceptions now and then for creative license with dialect and a few other things.

    The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present Edited by Philip Lopate.

    Again, another collection of essays. This one has a bigger variety of topics, and it's less modern as it was published in 1997, but it has a range of history behind it. As it says in the title, it goes from classical era to the present (90s). It does have specific "on writing" sections that are helpful, but the other sections are just as useful for me.

    There's one more that I found incredibly helpful, but I can't for the life of me remember the title and my books are packed in crates at the moment, otherwise I'd find it. I hope this answers your question, though.
     
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  3. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I had a copy of The Elements of Style in grad school. I think it's worth a read.

    But when it comes to books on writing I always recommend Object Lessons. It was put out by The Paris Review a few years back. It's set up a little differently than other books on writing. It's got some amazing stories by the famous, super great writers. Each story is followed by an essay by a successful, contemporary writer. So, with this you get a sampling of lessons and ideas from different viewpoints. When the book first came out they were calling it the only MFA you need. I wouldn't say this book is a substitute for the degree, but it is the best book on writing I've read. And I do believe this book helped me out in many ways.

    Overall, the way I see it is that the best way to learn writing is to read actual stories. Learning by example is a great way to go. Sure, someone can break things down into steps, but if you haven't exposed yourself to enough actual stories, your results will be limited. I rather someone show me how it's done rather than tell me how to do it.
     
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  4. Noir

    Noir Member

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    Wow! I could not disagree more with your perception of On Writing or King's attitude toward his own work.. But I also would not refer to it as a writing guide. Even the title refers to it as a memoir. The subtitle says that it is a memoir of the craft but really it is more a memoir of his craft and how he has approached writing throughout his career. It reads more like an autobiography with a few tips and personal philosophies sprinkled in.

    There is one part in which I want to grab Mr. King by the shoulders and shake him because he seems to imply that being a good writer is more about natural talent than a learned skill and that a "good" writer cannot learn to become a "great" writer and I hate that philosophy. It gives me that feeling of why bother writing if I'm not going to get any better. I believe he couldn't be more backwards on that point but then I suppose I have to believe that because between my interest in writing and my talent, it's my interest that is natural.

    If you're ever interested in giving it another go (you're probably not), I would recommend the audio version. I've always found his writing to be a little dry for my taste and I believe he has a (surprisingly) easy reading voice and he even does some voices that I wasn't aware he could do.

    I'll try to check out some of these essays you mentioned. I'm not sure I want to own the whole books as I'm more a fan of easy reference guides (I don't own On Writing and just picked up Elements of Style today) but I still like to hear as many perspectives as I can. I've actually heard of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation or I may have just noticed it on a shelf (I've worked in a few bookstores and sometimes I can't recall if someone has mentioned a title or I just saw it once) but after a little Google research, this one looks like it would be something I want to own.

    Tips I've heard from every writer from Stephen King to Neil Gaiman to Phil Athans and authors I've never even heard of is that the best way to improve your writing is to read, read, read and write, write, write. I once worked in a small bookstore where a guy came in and bought a random smattering of fantasy novels (some of them were sequels, others were part of a series with multiple books before it).

    I commented on a few of the titles I was familiar with, making my customer service commentary and also genuinely wanting to make conversation with anyone who bought fantasy. The guy mentioned that he just picked these off the shelf randomly because he wanted to do "research" into the genre so he could write his own. I didn't say anything but I don't think he was quite grasping the concept.

    Then there are others whom I've meant who don't read at all (not even non-fiction) but they think that they're going to write the next bestselling novel. Maybe they will? But I doubt it. That just boggles my mind.
     
  5. Dogberry's Watch

    Dogberry's Watch Member

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    To me there wasn't enough memoir and too much, like I said above, self-promotion as an all knowing author because he's so prolific. I'd quote passages that I feel back me up, but my copy is buried with the other one. To each their own, of course.
     
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  6. More

    More Member

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    My dad was a bricklayer . When I was a kid he showed me the basics of bricklaying. I was not very interested , and never took up the trade , but I still know how to do it . I don't believe you can teach someone how to write in the same way as bricklaying . The writer must be self motivated and have the ability to teach themselves . I like to alternate my reading , books on writing and works of fiction .
    The most recent , and books I would recommend is How to write a million , bit of a crap name but a good book . Rewriting by David Kaplan , it is more a how I write book , that is quite useful and interesting
     
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