Books on writing

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matt
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Fri May 02, 2008 12:35 am Post

Hugh wrote:But at a pinch, I'd add two others: Strunk and White (as you say, Sean, not just for Americans), and, for UK writers, From Pitch to Publication, by the former London agent Carole Blake.


I own Strunk and White, but I'm afraid I agree with the guys at Language Log regarding a lot of the advice.

eg.
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/language ... 01803.html
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/language ... 00994.html
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/language ... 01908.html
http://158.130.17.5/~myl/languagelog/ar ... 00469.html
http://158.130.17.5/~myl/languagelog/ar ... 01904.html

Taken liberally, Elements of Style gives you something else to look at when editing, which might push you to reconsider some choices (always a good thing). So long as you consider the "rules" to be opinions (I won't even use the word guideline).

Matt

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benjirab
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Sat May 03, 2008 7:16 am Post

A particular favourite of mine which hasn't been mentioned yet is 'Between The Lines' by Jessica Page Morrell - a detailed book about what the author calls 'the subtle elements of fiction writing' - a very useful companion when you want to do a forensic job on why your MS doesn't seem to have enough je ne sais quoi.

Robert McKee's Story was the first book on the craft I read so maybe I have a disproportionate affection for it - I did feel, though, like Keats on first looking into Chapman's Homer: I 'got it' all of a sudden, and realised why I'd never been able to come up with a decent plot before. It inspired me to start writing fiction again after a huge gap (OK, so I liked the idea a life of penury.... :roll: ).

Three books with good practical exercises for developing your craft: 'Your Writing Coach' by Jurgen Wolff, 'The Creative Writing Coursebook' by the team behind the East Anglia Creative Writing MA, and 'Novel in a Year' by Louise Doughty (for any novelists out there who haven't read it and are spluttering indignantly, she makes it clear in the intro that three years is probably more realistic :wink: )

Finally, one that people seem to either love or hate is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield - a book which starts with the question: why do creative artists put so much energy into doing everything other than the thing they claim they love to do? Some readers are irritated by his regularly invoking God as a muse - for the record, I'm a Buddhist and it didn't bother me: he's just using a handy label for that mystic intuition that produces your greatest material. Or maybe he knows something we don't...

Pressfield would doubtless not be surprised by how much time I spend reading about writing rather than doing it!

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ptram
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Sat May 03, 2008 8:21 am Post

For people who can read Italian, the major newspaper "La Repubblica" is publishing an extensive writing course on paper and DVD. I'm still doubtful if having to buy it, since it is managed by a writer that I really don't like (Alessandro Baricco), and includes some odd efforts to mix high and low literature without any apparent order - just with the need of being as inclusive as possible, as appealing as possible to most buyers.

Revealing is the inclusion of a series of DVDs. Probably, ideal purchasers are interested to write, but not very willing to read...

The general idea per-se, however, seems fine to me.

http://marketing.repubblica.it/saperscrivere/index.html

Paolo

Ed
Ed Hart
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Sun Jan 17, 2010 7:14 pm Post

matt wrote:I own Strunk and White, but I'm afraid I agree with the guys at Language Log regarding a lot of the advice.

Taken liberally, Elements of Style gives you something else to look at when editing, which might push you to reconsider some choices (always a good thing). So long as you consider the "rules" to be opinions (I won't even use the word guideline).

Matt


I totally agree. Take this book with a shaker of salt and a copy of the Chicago Manual.

One book that I read recently which I found quite useful was Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing. Brief, and to the point (it's really just a top ten list stretched into an essay published as an illustrated book). I found it useful to make a list of Leonard's Ten Rules and keep it handy. Like every hard and fast rule about writing, I believe all of these can be broken, but the gist of the book is to take out the telling and leave in the showing. Good advice for any writer. Cheers.

Sorry for the necro, I just got here. Also, thanks to all for the many recommendations. Right now I'm working my way through Plot by Ansen Dibell, and applying its lessons to my current project.

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Guido
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Tue Jan 19, 2010 12:43 am Post

Many of these books mentioned here are great choices. I personally have also read a number of the books from the "Write Great Fiction" series.

However, there is one thing I believe should be mentioned in this context also. There is such a thing as reading too much of these instructional books. After a while I found that they began to impede my writing. Apart from the fact that you can spend a lifetime reading all these books and doing all the exercises within, I also became so conscious of what I was doing that I could no longer let the creative writing pour out of me. I over-analyzed everything, my structure, my plot, my wording, my characters, my dialogues, etc. and found that in the end I barely created any writing and what came out of it was mediocre at best. It took me a while to get over this, and it took reading a few regular novels, just to get into a healthy mindset of writing without over-thinking.

Anyone else have this experience?
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PJ
PJS
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Tue Jan 19, 2010 2:12 pm Post

Guido wrote:Anyone else have this experience?


Almost the same: I taught writing (of different sorts, at different levels) for many years. Later, when writing for myself, I realized I was -- at least subconsciously -- asking myself, "Am I doing what I told my students to do?" Whereupon I'd begin, as you say, to over-analyze, the two cures for which are,
1/ read the work of other good writers, and
2/ stop analyzing and start writing.

Phil
You can't conquer stupid — or cure it — with more stupid.

Hu
Hugh
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Tue Jan 19, 2010 2:49 pm Post

Isn't the term "analysis paralysis"?

I think the recent expansion of the "writing advice" industry, not just in book-form but also in blogs, podcasts, prescriptive software, seminars and university and college courses is extraordinary. As Guido and Phil say, one antidote is to read stories, not instructions that tell you how to write them.

But JK Rowling has a lot to answer for...
'Listen, some quiet night, when you've shirked your work that day. Do you hear
that distant, almost inaudible clicking sound? That's one of your
competitors, working away in the night in
Paris or London or Erie, PA.'

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mary
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Thu Feb 18, 2010 7:16 pm Post

Seconding bobueland: If you Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland, is truly inspirational. And it makes more sense to me now than it did when I fell in love with it twenty years ago.

I also got help and inspiration from a book called The Writer's Path, by Todd Walton and Mindy Toomay. And then The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. My younger sister, a journalist, loves Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird.

dr
druid
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Thu Feb 18, 2010 7:26 pm Post

Typing is one thing, writing another, and publishing is the greatest hurdle of all.

The best book I know on publishing is Thomas McCormack, The Fiction Editor (NY: St. Martin's, 1988) It's short, informative, well-written, and no bull. Tells you what editors are seeking, how they respond to submissions, and the help they can give to authors.

The reason there are so many "how to write" books: they never expect you to publish. Just as 20,000 MFA degree-earners per year never get to market. That's a lot of hopefuls out there, all potential buyers of books that teach "how to write."

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cece
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Thu Feb 18, 2010 7:49 pm Post

Druid's right: McCormack is great, not least because he quit trade editing and became a playwright, a real one, and thus knows both sides. Other books on writing? Try books, just..books. Find your public library. Go in, browse, stay a while. Way too many people announce they want to write but never take time to read outside their comfort zone...and face it, the average prose style in scifi/horror/romance/fantasy/pop fiction is pretty bad. Stories often good, or at least pageturning, writing...meh. Or bleeah. Unless you read across the spectrum, you can't possibly know enough to tell junk verbiage from the real thing, defined by Emily Dickinson as 'if I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.' Or: strong, clear, intelligent prose.

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druid
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Wed Feb 24, 2010 1:53 pm Post

A very smart column by Laura Miller is in Salon today, "Advice from readers to writers."

http://www.salon.com/books/laura_miller ... print.html

She points out what many of my comments on this forum argue: instead of navel-gazing about what it means to be a writer, or how to be a writer, or what my writing process, or "workflow" is, my focus should always be on readers. After all, only they are going to sustain my career.

Miller offers good, sound practical advice in 5 points about characters, story, style, and humor. And she reminds us constantly that, despite the lonely and solitary experience of writing, its main purpose is to reach others.

If you don't want to do that, then writing is just a hobby or maybe therapy. Maybe it will do you some good, but don't expect others to care all that much. They have problems and frustrations, too.

Hu
Hugh
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Wed Feb 24, 2010 2:56 pm Post

druid wrote:A very smart column by Laura Miller is in Salon today, "Advice from readers to writers."

http://www.salon.com/books/laura_miller ... print.html


A very tidy encapsulation.
'Listen, some quiet night, when you've shirked your work that day. Do you hear
that distant, almost inaudible clicking sound? That's one of your
competitors, working away in the night in
Paris or London or Erie, PA.'

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joyousdance
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Thu Mar 01, 2012 10:12 am Post

These are what I consider to be two critical-to-purchase books on writing. They are "The Art of Dramatic Writing" by Lejos Egri and "Immediate Fiction" by Jerry Cleaver. Without these two books I think I would be completely lost. Now I feel like I have a strong concept of what I am doing.

The Egri book is written for playwrights, but don't let that discourage you if you don't write plays. It gives great advice for all types of writers. It covers the premise well, setting up the foundation that is critical before getting started with the writing process. It also has exceptional advice on other topics - much deeper than what I've read in other books.

The book by Cleaver is also a critical read. It is one of the best books I've ever read on the fundamentals of how to write well. I've read quite a few books on writing, and most of them have never helped me. But this one made me feel like I hit the jackpot for writers. I finally understood what I was doing. If I could only buy one I guess I'd get "Immediate Fiction", but the Egri book is really good too.

Tip: Take the "Immediate Fiction" book and take notes on the five critical elements of storytelling. At the end of those notes I also added in words of wisdom from throughout the book. I use this as my quick reference and find it very helpful.

Ta
Tacitus
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Thu Mar 01, 2012 12:35 pm Post

Best one I read was "Becoming a Writer" by Dorothea Brande. It was recommended to me back when I was a post-grad research student.
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GrubStLodger
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Sat Mar 03, 2012 9:20 am Post

I liked the Laura Miller article an awful lot, writer's need to remember that writing is an act of communication and not the spinning of some airy, delicate candyfloss. Good writing is direct and solid.

Another fantastic article about the same idea is 'The reader's manifesto' by BR Myers, I read it every now and then to remind me that writing is not for it's own sake, but for the reader.