I’ve never bought into the idea that some talents can’t be learned. Sure, some people have natural talents, or learn faster than others, but generally speaking, I think given enough time, anyone can learn to do anything. Everyone learns differently, some people learn best from a book working on their own, others need someone to show them examples. Some things can be learned from books. However, I think learning to write from a book is akin to learning to speak a foreign language from a book, i.e. it just won’t get you there. You need practical experience. If you want to learn how to write well, you have to write. For most of us, that means going through a phase of writing, to be polite, poorly. And yet, I think that there are elements of the craft of writing that you can learn from books. As such, here are three I’ve found invaluable on my path to becoming a writer.
- Self-Editing For Fiction Writers – By Renni Browne and Dave King
This book is on its 150,000th edition. Okay, maybe not that many, but it’s usually at the top of the suggested reading list, and for good reason. I found it easy to follow and understand and apply to my own writing. The book’s one drawback is actually a human fault. It teaches you how to fix problems, but you can fix only the ones you can see, and you’ll never see them all. As writers, we tend to skip over our own errors, our brains fixing them so we read what we intend, not what’s really on the page. However, this book is an excellent starting point and is easily one of the best I’ve found. It covers all aspects of writing: character development, dialogue, plot, all of it. It’s available everywhere and I recommend it, unless you don’t think you need it, then I highly recommend it.
- How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy – By Orson Scott Card
Regardless of what you might think of Mr. Card’s personal politics and beliefs, this book still has a lot of value if you want to write in either genre. I’ve read it several times, and I’m not even a huge fan of his fiction. This book is good at reminding us not just to write for fans of the genre, but for those who aren’t as well. Like most books, there are things I take away from it and find useful, and some things I discard because they don’t help me. But in the end, the cover price is small for the amount of information you’ll get out of it.
For those of you who don’t know, Donald Maass is a literary agent, and a rather successful one (read subtle understatement there). When I found this book of his, you could download it for free (as a pdf), but it doesn’t appear to be offered that way anymore. It’s a quick read, and I read it initially to get an agent’s perspective on writing (he’s also a published author). I got much more out of it than that. He has plenty of excellent tips and suggestions for improving your manuscript. What I really took away from it though was the first section: Status Seekers and Storytellers. For that portion alone, I think this book is worth the cost.
There are countless books on the craft of writing. These are just three I’ve found useful. Have you read any titles you want to add? Please leave a comment and tell me about them. I’d love to hear about what you’ve found helpful. In the end though, the only real way to improve your writing is to write, have someone else critique it honestly, then work to make the story better. Remember what Ernest Hemmingway said, “’there is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Of course, he never said how much you had to bleed, or how long you had to sit.