A Novel Idea

Writing manuals: some recommendations

Posted on: June 7, 2010

Warning: Contains mild coarse language that may offend.

When I felt unwilling to put fingers to keyboard a couple of weeks ago (more writer’s avoidance than writer’s block), I turned to another writer for advice. More specifically, to another writer’s book about the craft.

I reopened Stephen King’s On Writing. I read it years ago, at time when I fancied the idea of being a writer someday, but wasn’t yet ready for what that actually means.

All I remembered from that reading was the admonishment against adverbs.

I had been giving myself a hard time mentally because of what I felt was imperfect prose. I’m on my first draft of my first novel.

I’ve read great literature. I have a degree in it and am pursuing a Masters right now. I feel suitably qualified to criticize my own work.

So I turned to an incredibly successful mainstream author for help.

You can’t imagine my relief when I came to this nugget in King’s book:

‘In the first draft, I’m telling myself the story. It’s the following drafts that I’m telling the audience.’

(I’m paraphrasing to avoid wasting the half hour it would take me to find the page number when I could be writing more).

I took this as permission to bang out the first draft and not worry about the fact that I know this will probably take many more drafts to pass my standards.

Today, passing my enormous bookshelf on the way to make another cup of tea, I noticed my motley collection of writing manuals.

I’ve actually stopped buying them. I’ve read enough now to reassure myself that what I most need is just to get on with it.

Here are some books that have helped me along the way:

  • S. King – On Writing
  • W. Strunk & E.B White – The Elements of Style
    A set of rules to make your grandmother sound positively uneducated. Short sharp smacks to the head. For example “Meaningful – a bankrupt adjective. Choose another…’
  • S. Stein – Stein on Writing
    Includes a formidable table of contents and an entertaining version of the Ten Commandments for Writers. Number 4 “Thou shalt not saw the air with abstractions, for readers, like lovers, are attracted by particularity.”
  • J. Wood – How Fiction Works
    Just a bloody good read.
  • J. N. Frey – How to write damn good fiction
    The Seven Deadly Mistakes address ways to avoid stuffing up your own writing life. These include timidity, trying to be literary, ego-writing, dreams, faith, lifestyle and failure to produce.
  • D. Gerrold – Worlds of wonder: How to write science fiction & fantasy
    I’m not sure I’ve actually read this – an old book mark was stuck at chapter two. The bookmark had a great quote though. See below.
  • R. Silverberg – Science Fiction 101

Let me know if you have great writing manual which really helped you on your journey.

My random book-mark quote find:

‘We are made whole /

By books, as by great spaces and the stars.’

Mary Carolyn Davies, Poet.

Write well. Write often.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

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3 Responses to "Writing manuals: some recommendations"

Congratulations on making the Freshly Pressed page!

I am an English instructor, so my blog serves as a repository of information students will need on and off throughout their college experience, but like all English teachers on the planet, I am at work on a novel. I, too, follow King’s advice to wait for second-and-later drafts to think about your audience, so I would like to recommend a book I find wonderfully helpful for that approach: 179 Ways to Save a Novel: Matters of Vital Concern to Fiction Writers by Peter Selgin (Writer’s Digest Books).

Try opening 179 Ways at random, applying the advice to just one scene, and saving the revision as a separate document (with the tip number so you can differentiate the various revisions you will soon stack up). I find that one of three things happens: the tip helps me, the tip somehow inspires new material from me, or the whole thing has been a writing exercise that needs “cooling” before I can see the value in it. No matter which of the three outcomes I get, I am productive — exactly the desired the result.

Best wishes for your own work!

Have you read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (http://www.amazon.com/Bird-Some-Instructions-Writing-Life/dp/0385480016)?
It’s a great read and perfect when you’re down and feeling uninspired. It’s always given me a boost when I’m feeling blocked or blue about writing…I’d give it a try if you have the time.

No I haven’t. Thanks Heather.

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