Monday, April 4, 2011

Let's NOT venerate writing books

So last week someone told me that my how to fix up your dialogue post sounded like something yanked out of a writing book. It definitely wasn't, but I can't decide if I feel insulted or pleased by this comment.

The thing is, I'm not a big fan of writing books. I've just always felt that my time was better spent writing than reading about writing, you know?

I mean, the books I have read were helpful. The Seven Basic Plots helps shape cranky plot structures, Reading Like A Writer shows how to identify what does and doesn't work in a story, and No Plot? No Problem! is the speedwriting NaNoWriMo handbook. I've always wanted to read On Writing and Save the Cat! just because I've heard so many good things about them. And, of course, From the Query to the Call is supposed to be the ultimate (and free!) guide to querying.

The problem, I think, is when you start reading too many of these books. How many writers stymie themselves by endlessly reading writing books because they're afraid that they don't know how to write? How many writers waste time with methods that don't work for them because a famous author talked about it in his book?

Writing books set rules, but people need to remember that writing rules should really be referred to as writing guidelines.

They help keep you in line, away from cliches and poor structure and weak writing. But if your story needs to start with a prologue, or needs an adverb in that sentence, or needs to tell something instead of showing it, then you shouldn't be afraid to do that. Don't let a writing book tell you how to write your own story.

I urge you to read some writing books, but don't start worshiping them. And please, don't hold everything I say to that standard either. Everyone has their own method and their own rules they like to follow. Knowledge is awesome, but the most important thing is to write in a way that works for you.

So what writing books have you guys read? Did you like or dislike them? And what do you think about writing blogs, since they can get writing booky at times? Tell me in the comments.


Kate Robertson said...

You left one big thing out FEAR.The reason there are so many writing books out there is because they sell. There are millions of people wanting to write books, who afraid to do so, who don't know how. Their fears cover any number of areas. You've been writing since your were four so you have not had the experience. My favorite writing books are;

If You want to Write Brenda Euland
Writing down the Bones Natalie Goldberg
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont
Writing FIction by Gotham Writers Workshop
Page by Page Heather Sellers

Sarah Robertson said...

Actually, that was what I was trying to say, but it must have not come out very clearly.

What I meant was that I think some people use writing books as an excuse for their fear. They fear rejection/failure and so they endlessly put off that rejection/failure by making the excuse that they don't know how to write. Yes, there are other fears inherent to this process but many of them tie back to rejection/failure and the desire to avoid that.

I believe that writing books are helpful, but only to a certain point. If someone has a question about executing dialogue, then yes, a book on dialogue will be able to help. But if someone has read 20+ writing books and still refuses to make progress under the assumption that they "can't write," they are using those books as an excuse. I want people to realize this, to put their writing books aside and simply write. There is no writing book that can replace the practice of writing itself.

Brenna Braaten said...

When I read the title, I thought writing was a verb, not an adjective. That left me a little confused. And I know you and I have talked about this stuff a lot. And I still agree it can be helpful, and can be troublesome.

Kate also makes a really good point about fear. But I also think that there is a naivete in there as well.

Sarah Robertson said...

*shrug* Not much I could do about the title. I'm starting to think this post was just a big blob of misunderstandings. Maybe I didn't articulate myself very well?

Also, please elaborate. I was trying to refer to people that have read 20+ writing books, so I'm curious on how naivete falls into this. :)

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