So, there was a time in which I collected writer’s guide books. I still have most of them, from Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoint to Jack Bickham’s The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, novel books like Oakley Hall’s The Art & Craft of Novel Writing and Bickham’s Writing and Selling your Novel (I seem to have a lot of Bickham’s books), a handful of writer’s guides like Police Procedural and Scene of the Crime, idea books like The Writer’s Idea Workshop and The Writer’s Book of Matches, and general writing helpers like Woe is I and Zinsser’s On Writing Well. At a glance, I have more than 25 of these writer’s helper books that promise to make you a published, if not brilliant, writer.
And then one day I realized: I read more about how to write than I do any actual writing! Thanks to the Intertubes, with all its bloggies and podcastings, one thing I learned from a great many actually published and brilliant writers who don’t have writer’s guide books, is that the old chestnut is true: A writer writes. Whether you subscribe to the theory that you’ll be a skilled writer after so many million words written, or so many hours spend practicing your craft–the bottom line is you don’t get better by reading about writing, you get better by writing.
(Well, and also fixing your writing. I mean, you could write a million words, but if you think everything you write is golden–you’re not going to get any better at all! The trick to write write write, and then fix fix fix. Only by doing that that that over and over and over, does one become a better writer!)
That said, there’s some benefit to all these books. I mean, it can be helpful to learn about good motivation, scene beats, dialog tags, the pros and cons of point of view and voice, and other aspects of the craft. And, learning these nuts and bolts might shave some hours and words off the time it takes for the complete novice who would otherwise trial-and-error their way into learning these things. Not everyone can be a naturally brilliant yet unschooled Patrick Rothfus. *grin* (Am completely digging on his Name of the Wind right now. Captivating!)
I suppose it’s somewhat unfair of me to slam these helper books and say “We don’t need no stinkin’ Writer’s Digest press books!” since . . . I’ve actually read them, and I’ve no idea if (once I finally put the books down and picked up the metaphorical quill) I started writing, if I hadn’t read those books over all those years, I’d be writing at the same level as I am now. (Assuming, that is, my current level is a recognizable level and not, you know, a sub-level.) I’ve heard from more than one successful writer that creative writing classes are a pointless waste (can I have those 12 credit hours back, please?), but I wonder if they say that because they’re that rare breed that was able to suss the craft more easily from reading others’ works and emulating it in their own? After all, additionally, many of these same writers claim that being successful takes only a glimmer of talent–the rest is all perspiration! Is there anything wrong with seeking to perspire a touch less if you can learn some technique and skill without the trial-and-error?
Regardless of to writer’s guide or not to writer’s guide, the key is to write! No matter what. Don’t wait, don’t “learn” and delay until you’re “ready,” because no matter how much you read and learn you’ll never just be ready. Not without some sweat equity invested!
And so here is where I get to the point of this post (obviously, some people may need to write less). If some of these books, in moderation and taken with a grain of salt and in conjunction with doing, can help, let’s take a look at what benefit they may offer. And, more to the point, I wanna get some more tangible use out of them. So, I’m going to start reviewing these books here on the blog, in conjunction with trying and doing what they suggest.
I’m going to start with the compellingly titled First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Wiesner, because, conveniently enough, I’ve a new book I’m tinkering around with that I need to get a first draft going on! Here we can see what a helper book can offer when it’s one that leads you so directly to do and not read.
(I can tell you right now that I won’t be able to do this book in the strict, consecutive days format it mandates–I’ve a day job, family, and whatnot. But a day every couple, and maybe a couple days in one when possible, will be a pretty good way to keep this active.)
So, this week: let’s start a first draft!