Friday, May 27, 2011

Books About Writing

Talli had an interesting post the other day, entitled 'Why I Don't Write About Writing.' It's a great post, and worth a look. Not every writer wants to discuss their own writing techniques and Talli provides an interesting perspective on this.

I'm somewhere in the middle. I like posting about writing, but my own method (if you'll pardon the overstatement) is still very hit-and-miss. I'm currently on Draft Two of Becky and the need for Draft Three has just hit me in the face. I'm trying to decide whether to finish Draft Two (I'm weak at writing endings so could use the practice), or just start Draft Three (some of the changes I'm planning will make writing the ending far easier). I'll let you know what I decide, but I don't think I'll be able to argue conclusively that whatever draft I choose to work on is the 'best method', even for myself. I'm still learning what works for me, so I don't feel I can even speak with authority about my own methods. My methods are changing constantly as I learn more.

With all of this in mind, I was delighted to be sent a link to a list of 50 Books That Will Make You A Better Writer. I'm betting none of them directly handle my Draft Two problem, but I love reading books about writing. Some of them have advice I take on board, some don't. But the message I take away from them is almost exactly the one Talli discusses in her blog - everyone is different.

I'm halfway between a plotter and a pantser (I just would be, wouldn't I?). I tend to have a vague idea of an overarching plot, but as the characters reveal themselves, I deviate. Sometimes a lot. I'm a writer who needs to tell herself the story in order to get it moving and enjoy it. When I was writing my novel about Rosie, I had meticulously plotted it (I had to, I had two intersecting timelines and I was trying to span over 90 years). And once I knew exactly what was going to happen, it was tough to make myself sit at my desk. The fun and the discovery was gone.

And it's nice to know that some other writers feel the same, that no method dooms one to failure.

Do you like writing about writing, or reading about writing? Any favourite methods? What books on writing do you recommend?


  1. As I said on Talli's blog, I love to read about writing. I'll read anything and everything. Then I just abandon all the stuff I don't like and keep the rest :)

    As far as writing about writing goes, beyond writing about what works (or doesn't) for me, I wouldn't dream of it. I'm a learner, not a teacher :)

  2. I like writing about writing, but I combine it with my experiences to prevent my blog from feeling like a "How to".

    I'm a pantser, except for the fact that I can't write for long without knowing the ending.

    As for reading about writing, it's interesting, but I believe there aren't any hard and fast rules, so I don't take it too seriously.


  3. I absolutely love reading about writing. Blogs that discuss technique and craft are some of my favourites. I love to learn from others and see the process from another perspective. It's amazing what you can realise about your own work that way.

    Like you, I'm between a planner and a pantster. I don't write outlines, but I know you and I have chatted enough for you to know I like to think ahead and sort of rehearse important scenes before I write them. I like to consider as many ways of telling the story as I can so I know what major plot points I'm working towards.

    That said, of all the things I've read on writing, one of the best tools I've seen is TV Tropes. Just being aware of what the tropes of my genre are and how they've been used in the past is something I find invaluable. Then from that, I pay attention to how they're used in other books and movies.

  4. About your draft two/three quandry, I would advise you to complete draft two, even if you have to skim through bits and leave sections a little vague. I find the sense of completion, even if I end up changing it all in the next draft, just make same feel like I'm making progress towards the final version.

    If you keep getting so far, and then back to the start you can get stuck in an endless loop that feels discouraging.

    Just a suggestion, feel free to ignore.

    Moody Writing

  5. I like Orson Scott Card's book about characters and viewpoint. (That may even be the title!) I am a pantser, who goes back and plots, then writes by the seat of her pants again. And instead of an outline, everything is a chart. It has to be visual for me to get it.

  6. Talli's post really spoke to me because I don't write about writing. I have read a lot of books on the subject and my three favorites are: Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg; Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott and Voice of the Muse, by Mark David Gerson.

  7. Thanks for the shout out, Ellen! I enjoy reading how other writer's write, but somehow... it's just not something I like to expound on, unless someone asks.

  8. I haven't been writing for very long and I enjoy books and blogs about writing. I've also enjoyed 'Save The Cat' the book on screenplay writing, which has some great ideas that work for novels too.

    I think, as you and Talli say, that everyone is different and the 'rules' are not set in stone. If they were then there would be no spontineity.

  9. I don't know why but I never get tired of reading about writing. I just think it's so interesting how everyone can be so similar and yet so different. It's kind of cool.
    I'm half way between plotter and panster too. :)

  10. Sarah, even as a learner I bet people would be interested in hearing how you do it! It seems to fascinate a lot of writers :)

    Misha, I often know the ending too, or at least have some idea of it. It's the details I don't know, and when I did know too many details it was very hard to make myself write them!

    Thanks, Paul, you had to mention TV Tropes. There goes my evening. . .

  11. Mood, cheers for you input, that is a good point. The sense of completion is important. I'm also concerned that if I don't finish Draft Two, there could be ending problems I haven't spotted yet, which will force me into Draft Four if I only spot them on Draft Three. . . :) I think all signs are pointing to finishing Draft Two but it feels like redundant work. I just keep telling myself there is no redundant work in writing. . .

    Rebecca, I loved Ender's Game so I'll check out that book, thanks :) I do plot a little between drafts myself, but charts don't work for me (I'm the opposite of a visual person!) so I make lists. Endless lists. . .

    Karen, I'm a big Natalie Goldberg fan myself, I've read everything apart from her (I think) latest on writing memoir. I don't write memoir but I love her style and her philosophy so I will probably read it too!

  12. You're welcome, Talli, it certainly got me thinking and I like to credit everyone who does that :)

    Margo, I hadn't heard of 'Save the Cat' but it looks good, I must read it!

    Jennifer, there's definitely enough of us in the in-between camp to form a support group now. Who's in? :)

  13. TV Tropes is a wonderful thing and it's magnetic pull should not be resisted! Give in!


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