How Helpful are Writing Books?

stephen_king_on_writing

Okay guys, time for a bit of honesty. It is 3:51 in the morning as I sit here and write this. I’m sleepy. So I’m going to make this quick.

I’ve never read a writing book. I didn’t even know they existed before I started on WordPress, shows you how much I get out. And there’s one writing book that I’ve seen mentioned over and over again. You probably know it. Maybe. Stephen King’sย On Writing. I have no idea if this book is any good, but I do know that about a gazillion bloggers on WordPress have read it. Maybe you’re one of them.

So, have you read any writing books? How helpful have they been for you?

PS: A few days ago I asked y’all to pick my next read, right? It turns out that y’all are indecisive. Yesterday was going to be the last day that I looked at the votes, but guess what?ย Gone Girl andย 1984 are tied! So if you haven’t already voted in the poll, please do so today! Just click here.

Advertisements

60 thoughts on “How Helpful are Writing Books?

  1. I found On Writing a pragmatic and useful book. I refer to it often during points where I am stuck or need inspiration. It’s plainly spoken and doesn’t intimidate or overstay it’s welcome.

    Like

  2. I actually found King’s “advice” to be a bit too harsh. In a sense, I guess that makes sense. You’re either a writer or you aren’t. But, it certainly shouldn’t be the first writing book you read, or you may give up before you start.

    Like

  3. I have read a few writing books. I found them interesting. Did they help me? By now I’ve forgotten what I read. Tsk. I don’t know if they helped me a lot but probably a little at the time. I did read Stephen King’s book on writing. I remember liking it. I look forward to reading what your other commentators have to say about books on the craft of writing. This is another one of your many great posts, John. Blessings to you…

    Like

  4. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott–funny and invaluable. The Artist’s Way, another classic and still funny. I’ve got advanced degrees and have taught writing and still find these books wonderfully helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. They can be useful as pointers to give you some feedback as to what you’re doing write (haha) or wrong. I’d have to get back to you on their exact names but one or two books on self-editing I think are critical. It helped me edit my own novels. However, don’t get hung up on them since at the end of the day you have to be you and I bet if you asked twenty writers and editors for their thoughts you’ll get at least fifteen different suggestions.

    Like

  6. I have a couple writing books on my shelves, but the best way to learn how to write is to find authors and books I truly enjoy and see what they’re doing right. My favorites are the power of three, one-word sentences, and one-sentence paragraphs.

    Like

  7. I have lots of writing books on my kindle, all downloaded when they have been on offers. But I’ve not yet read any of them and hope to change that soon. I’ll try and remember to let you know if I come across anything good.

    Like

  8. I loved King’s book on writing. Simple and practical. But I am biased in a way because it was Stephen King who wrote in his novels about my experience growing up. He got me through some really rough patches. People are quick to dismiss him but I’ve read a massive variety of literature in my life and few can come close to King’s mastery as a storyteller.

    Like

  9. I swear by writing books. They have cured me of so many silly mistakes. I’m also a huge plotter/planner, so the step-by-step advice/diagrams/etc they provide is super helpful to me.

    However, plenty of them can offer conflicting advice or advice that is not pertinent to YOU. I own a few of John Gardner’s writing books and we don’t always see eye to eye. Gardner is a literary novelist, so he dismisses the genre fiction that you and I prefer. For that, I take some of his advice with a grain of salt.

    Having learned your writing philosophy, I think you’d enjoy “Plot and Structure” by James Scott Bell. Some of his advice is outdated (he advocates prologues, but those are out of fashion now), but most of the book is fantastic. He primarily focuses on commercial writing/thrillers as well, so I think it would benefit your type of writing. “How To Write A Breakout Novel” by Donald Maas is another good one, because he is more concerned about you writing a marketable book than about writing a “good” book.

    Like

    • I like the name John Gardner just because of his initials. Haha but it sounds like I probably wouldn’t like his writing books much.

      I definitely just looked up the other two and I think I might get them in the near future. Cause I’m open to some writing advice. Not like I know anything. So thanks!

      Like

  10. On Writing was the first “writing” book I ever bought. At a time when I was questioning my abilities, it came in very handy. The way he structured it is the real winner. He makes you learn through his writing, he isnt telling you a certain way to write. Although he gives you tips, he’s pretty much telling you to figure out your own style through practice.

    I recently picked up a book called ‘The Writer’s Journey’ by Christopher Vogler.
    The subtitle is ‘Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters’ but I’m finding it to be very useful in terms of all facets of writing.

    Like

  11. They can be useful. I liked On Writing, but more because I like to read King than out of any desire to be taught how to write. Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules Of Writing is another fun one (though it’s an expanded list with illustrations as opposed to an actual book – you can read it in five minutes), mostly because you can feel him not taking it too seriously.

    Like

    • Well even if I’m not intending to read any book as if it were a writing bible, I’d at least want the author to take the book seriously. Otherwise why write it? Or buy it.

      Like

      • With Leonard, I feel like he’s doing two things. His list of rules are about how to be invisible as a writer, which is something he obviously strives for. But almost every one has a disclaimer or mentions a writer who does the thing he doesn’t like very well. Somebody above said King’s book is harsh. Well, Leonard’s is the opposite. It’s laid-back, laconical, and – to me, anyway – more inspiring for it. When I say he doesn’t take it too seriously, I mean that he says, “Don’t do this…unless you want to and think you can get away with it.”

        It feels like advice, not like your English teacher throwing a piece of chalk at your head for using an adverb.

        Like

      • Ohhhh. I misunderstood. I thought you meant it was just thrown together and not something that he spent the proper amount of time on. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. My mistake.

        Like

  12. I’ve read a couple. There were a few things I picked up from each. But, honestly, I believe the passion and desire to write are what’s most important. If we writers relied solely on what writing book tell us to do, I think we’d get stale and bland very quickly. I think the best books for a writer to own are a good thesaurus and s good grammar book. The rest comes from the heart!

    Like

  13. Stephen King if you want a metaphorical boot up your metaphorical bahookie -it’s straight talking, good advice. Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) if you want gentle encouragement to write something, anything every day.

    Like

  14. I’ve read enough of them, partially because I had to in college (apparently you can’t write creatively without having read 40 books about how to have thoughts. Go figure. I thought having thoughts came naturally to most of us.), and partially because my Aunt is the self help queen and loves gifting me the silly things.

    I’ve only ever read two that were worth the paper they were written on, though.
    ‘Writing Down the Bones’ is a good motivational book, part guide, part autobiography. That one was a gift from Auntie. And, ‘If you can talk, you can write’ by Saltzman is a really good no bullshit take on creative writing. That one was an assigned text, but one I only got rid of recently (after 10 years of hoarding) to free up shelf space.
    I don’t go out of my way for this sort of book, but there are a few rare gems that I’ve revisited to help me get through a slump now and again.

    Like

    • Luckily I never took a writing class in college, so I was never forced to read any. Another blogger mentioned “Write Down the Bones” and similarly said that it’s good encouragement. I’ll have to look up the other one. Thanks for the suggestions!

      Like

      • As a Literature major, it was sort of obligatory, and as someone who started at a two year institute there was at least one I had to effectively take twice, because the credits transferred, but not the course. I liked the writing classes as a nice intermission from all the reading classes. I sort of considered them my ‘freebie’ courses. The homework was easy and the reading was light, and I needed at least one light class to survive a full curriculum of heavy reading classes, several clubs, and 2 part time jobs. (In retrospect, I don’t know where I got the energy, or when I slept. lol.)

        What I found most engaging about “Writing Down the Bones” was that it doesn’t read like a writing book. It’s not another book professing some formula that can ‘Poof!’ suddenly transform you into a writer, as if you’ve been struck by a magic wand. It reads more like an autobiography. Encouraging, yes, but also, just someone who has a story to tell in their own right, which I think really sets it apart from most of the genre.

        Like

      • So you’re saying that I won’t become a multimillionaire super author just from reading a book on writing? Haha I’d have to go back and look, but I think some other commenters had similar things to say about the books they’ve read, that they didn’t hit the reader over the head with rules and things like that. If that makes sense.

        Like

      • lol! I know it sounds silly, but I seriously have read books that read like “if you do this and this and this, in this specific order I’m laying out for you, you will be amazing and nothing can possibly ever go wrong for you”, which anyone with a lick of sense knows is unrealistic at best, and a straight up shot of crazy at worst. We pretty much all know that’s just now how writing works. So, as a reaction to those books (which I have so thoroughly blocked from my memory I can’t name any), books like ‘Writing Down the Bones’, which are telling a story – and you might get a few tips and words of encouragement along the way – are a refreshing change of pace. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Like

      • Haha this is a minor tangent, but I’ve read SO many posts on here from bloggers who aren’t doing anything to get the word out about their books who claim to have no idea as to how come their book isn’t selling. These are the writers who read a few books on writing and come up with ridiculous expectations for themselves.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha, yeah, tangents are a skill of mine, sorry about that. ๐Ÿ™‚
        But, agreed, encouragement is important, but so is realism. In this new, clumsy publishing atmosphere, the most important lesson is probably just that there’s no one strategy that works for everyone. It’s a really odd atmosphere, which makes writing books geared at getting published, especially if they’re more than 5 years old, particularly useless.

        That said, I’m not actually trying to get published (at the moment), so what do I know?

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Heh. This is a really ironic time to read this post. I just moved my car full of stuff up to my new job (temporary before I haul to the next one in three months), and I brought about 20 or so books on writing. I still don’t own Stephen King’s book, but it’s on my wish list.

    I’ve only read a few writing books all the way through. One was “The First 50 Pages.” That was helped me enormously! It revolutionized how I wrote, especially the beginning.

    Also, “The Art of War for Writers” is another one I love. And that one is pretty short.

    I know I’ve read a few more all the way through, but I can’t think of their titles. I probably have about 50 books on writing, and a majority of them are picked over. I go through and find the topics I’m looking for and use what’s written (if it’s helpful at all).

    I suppose I could also find that information online, but many times, a book in my hands produces more and it’s better organized.

    I guess I’m a bit of a books-on-writing junkie.

    Like

  16. Pingback: January’s Great Start to 2015 | Write me a book, John!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s