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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Books about writing...and why they're a waste.

Boy that title sounds pompous, doesn't it? In my world, it happens to be a statement based on experience.

When I'm asked if there is a book out there they can read to help them get started (becoming an author), I typically ask in reply, what is it you're looking for?  Motivation? Subject matter?  An 'insider' tip that will help you break into the field? Information on the process?  The mechanics?

At this point, I usually get nods from start to finish, an emphatic YES on one particular subject or a glazed over look.

The truth is there are TONS of books out there on fiction writing. Here is the proof.  I just went to amazon and searched three words, fiction-writing-books.  There were 30,868 results.  (Screenshot below)

Crazy, right?

Most books written by successful authors about writing and specifically fiction authors and how they write are...well...about how THEY write, not how YOU write.  You know how you write not bestselling author X or CEO of publishing company Y.

If you need a book for inspiration then I truly believe you shouldn't be writing at all.  Writers are creative, right? Inspiration lies in the world around you -or how your twisted mind perceives the world around you.

That being said, there are books out there that touch on subjects that do touch on the process and mechanics and are worth reading -multiple times, actually.

The first and probably most well known is called The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White.  If you've been writing for any length of time, you already own this book or have heard of it.

  The second, less well known, although the author is world renown, is called simply On Writing by Stephen King -yes THAT Stephen King.

I've read On Writing cover-to-cover at least half a dozen times first because, like most of his work, is thoughtful, witty and honest.  Take this excerpt, for example from the second foreword.

This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit.  Fiction writers, present company included, don't understand very much about what they do --not why it works when it's good. Not why it doesn't when it's bad.  I figured the shorter the book, the less bullshit.

Many people have many things to say about Stephen King but one unarguable fact remains. King is a master storyteller.  Tying stories of his life together with explanations on process, mechanics and even touching on what to do once you've finished a project, On Writing is the most easy-to-read, easy to understand book on the topic I've found.  It contains priceless lessons for writers of all levels, not just beginners.  Of all King's pieces of work, On Writing has had the most influence in my life. 

So, are books about writing a waste?  Most of them.  These two certainly are not.  Buy them. Now, in fact.  You can download Elements of Style for FREE!  But as a fellow author, I hate to see anyone's work given away.  

One of King's best pieces of advice is to write. Everyday put aside time to write.  Write whatever you want but write!  Give yourself a word count goal (I think he shoots for 3000) and stick to it.  I shoot for 1000 and probably will until I make a living writing.  

If you write because you want to be the next Stephen King and live the 'high life' you will not succeed.  You must write because you love to write.  If the passion is not there, the reader will see right through you.  If you love to write, writing everyday isn't a drag, it's uplifting, exciting and sometimes scary but always enjoyable (except for those times when your brain stops working and you can barely get a sentence out from your brain and down to your fingers). 

Until next time, J. R. Wagner

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