Monday, January 10, 2011

Reading About Writing

At some point in recent history, I decided I should probably read more books on the topic of writing. Even as I made the decision, I groaned inwardly. I don’t have a great history with books on writing. I the past, I haven’t been one to even finish them. I expected to have the same problem now, but I vowed to buckle down and get her done. I didn’t consider a key difference between the me of a couple of years ago (when the last time I made an attempt) and the me of now. The difference was I had completed two book-length manuscripts.

I’m not saying that people who haven’t completed or started a manuscript won’t be able to get something out of reading about writing. I have a friend who thinks he’s an expert on writing because he’s read some articles, so obviously it works for some people.

Everyone learns in different ways: by seeing, by reading, by listening, by doing. (Did I get them all? Add one or two?). I am definitely a learn-by-doing type. Theories on how something is done just kind of evaporate from my head, but once I’ve put my hands and mind to the task, I get it. Or at least get a feel for it. The same goes for novel writing, even though I got my B.A. in creative writing. Working on short stories in school taught me a lot about the different elements of writing, but novel writing is a challenge that presents the author with it’s own unique hurtles. To really understand what those were, I had to leap and stumble my way through the process for myself. (I’m sure I’m not alone on that.)

When reading about writing a novel before I wrote a novel, everything in that book was too theoretical. The analogy of trying to build a house on sand comes to mind. But when I read about writing a novel after I had completed and been thinking about how to improve my own manuscripts, that’s when the lessons really sank in. I was able to compare what I read with my own experiences, my successes and failings.

Now when I say to myself that I’m going to read more books on writing, it’s sans the inward groan. In fact, I’m practically bubbling with excitement. I decided to start with the books that seem to come up all the time when writers suggest book on writing. I’ve already read (and loved) Writing the Breakout by Donald Maass and I just picked up Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I think I might go with Stephen King’s On Writing next.

Every time I read a novel that blows me away, I’m left with the feeling (again) that I need to become a better writer. I must then ask myself, what am I actively doing to improve not just my current manuscript, but my understanding of writing as a craft. I don’t know if it’s my learn-by-doing-ness specifically or my hippie-esque go-with-the-flow, type-B personality in general, but I think I sometimes rely too much on instincts and only ever put “just enough” effort into analysis and understanding. So this is me giving the latter a go. Wish me luck.


  1. Good luck! And some of those books are very good. Of course, I'm kind of the opposite of you. I like to have a lot of theory under my belt before I attack head-on a problem. That way, I feel like I know what I'm doing (to some extent).

    Glad to know you liked Writing the Breakout Novel. It's on its way, shipping towards my place at the moment. :)

  2. Thanks! Yeah, knowing what you're doing before hand sounds like a good idea. Hope you like Writing the Breakout Novel. Let me know what you think!