Saturday, July 25, 2009

Do books about writing really help?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I've written fiction ever since I was in what they now call middle school.

There was a time when I, like many others, had visions of writing The Great American Novel or whatever.

Now I understand that, for professional fiction writers, writing is a job. It may be a job under attack right now, facing all kinds of problems. Maybe even the medium in which writing is presented is in flux, but still we write.

Do "how-to" books on writing really help? I doubt it, or at least they seldom do.

I still have several older "how-to" writing books on my shelf.

I've never found them very helpful. Few of them are written by real writers. Lawrence Block used to write a lot about how to write, and he, of course, writes with authority. But a lot of the others may be among the "if you can't write, write about writing" school.

If I were to give myself advice, it would be this--Read and Write. Read the best in the genre, and write, not to imitate, but to add something different to the mix.

I have one other little thing to say. Encouragement helps. When Ruth Cavin wrote me a brief email about my book The Body in the Record Room, and then when that book was published to good reviews which nailed both the book's weakness and strengths, I came to look at my writing in a different way.

Now someone had told me they saw value in what I had written. Now I had a standard to uphold.

Writing is my retirement activity. I approach it like other retirees approach gardening or playing golf, but I don't want to do it poorly. I want to keep on growing. I think I can do that best, not by reading a lot of books about writing, but by reading good mystery novels and then writing something which adds to the genre.

4 comments:

Corey Wilde said...

Bravo, Joe. A lot of people spend money on how-to-write books, but the only way to learn is write and let others read and critique, then write some more. Re-write. Re-re-write. It's hard work.

And that's why I'm a blogger and not a writer.

Joe Barone said...

I've spent my share over the years, but they never really helped.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'm of two minds about this. Sometimes I find them inspirational. Sometimes I think they're repeating what's already been said: Show don't tell, don't use backstory; don't use adverbs, write what you know. But sometimes it really fires me up.

Joe Barone said...

Sometimes, as soon as you write something, something else occurs which makes you wonder. I'm not sure yet, but I may well buy that Write With Fire book. It certainly has a title I believe in.