Do I really have to read books on writing?

Seriously, I’ve seen some good books that give helpful tips and tricks on writing (or how not to write), but looking at the reference section at my local bookstore last night I was really wondering: Do I really have to read any of those? I mean sure they might give me some help, but most of it is fairly clear to me and thus it’s redundant to spent $10 or $15 on a book that tells you things you already knew.

Maybe it’s just that I’m not a particular fan of this kind of books or the fact that as a fantasy writer I don’t always feel very represented in them. In the end I ended up buying Roget’s Thesaurus (because I still didn’t have it yet *gasp*) and will maybe pick up one or the other reference book later. Maybe πŸ˜‰

Anyway, what’s your opinion? Which books have you read and which of those were actually helpful to you?

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9 Responses to “Do I really have to read books on writing?”

  1. dfrucci Says:

    Maybe not a necessity, but it is very helpful. Even if you don’t follow their steps all in all, you can still absorb some good writing tips. One book that I believe is a necessity for the writing process and publication journey is On Writing by Stephen King. It begins sort of like an autobiography but then it branches off into a book all about writing.

  2. Don Says:

    Dear grasshopper, there is always something new to learn whether you’re a fantasy writer or not. I have bought quite a few of them books recently and they all have something new to offer. Here is my list of books that I have bought over the years:

    – Short Story Writing
    – Handbook of Short Story Writing II
    – Writing Horror – Not much relevant stuff about horror in here, but some good articles.
    – Make A Scene – This is the most helpful book I have ever, ever, ever bought.
    – The Power of Point of View
    – How Not to Write a Novel – There is a lot of common sense stuff in here, but unless someone had told me about it, I wouldn’t have known what I already knew.
    – No Plot? No Problem

    The last three I just recently got.

  3. nymeria87 Says:

    Thanks for the recommendations, guys. One that I do have to add, that I actually own (thanks to ebay πŸ˜‰ is

    The Writer’s Digest Writing Clinic by Kelly Nickell

    Overall it was a fast read and had some good tips and tricks.

    Btw. Stephen King’s On Writing and Mittelmann’s How Not To Write a Novel are on my “to buy” list. Looked at the latter one last night and it’s hilarious. It’s just not a high priority for me right now (and I’m broke, heh)

    One thing that does bug me a little though is the fact that nearly every writer is absolutely convinced that you CAN’T write anything good unless you’ve read at least half a dozen books on writing. There I decidedly disagree. I really don’t think you HAVE to read any of those. However I don’t deny that they can help if you apply them right πŸ˜‰

  4. Don Says:

    I agree. I’m sure some people are quite capable of writing stories without reading a how-to book. But that is different than saying there is nothing new to learn, which is never true.

  5. nymeria87 Says:

    Agreed πŸ˜‰

    And just fyi, I just got my refund check from university and guess what I got? Boooooookzzz :p

    Anyway, going to look into How Not to Write A Novel and Make A Scene right now πŸ˜‰

  6. Robert Walker Says:

    I would have to say that rather than reading “how to” books, the best thing to do is read good fiction. A lot of it. I believe in osmosis, for lack of a better term.

    To be honest, one of the things I don’t like about “how to” books, or even writing classes, is that I think it’s important to find your own voice, and that can be hard when you’re following too many rules. I also feel, and this might not be very pc of me or whatever, but when it comes to writing, and playing an instrument, I think there actually is something to the idea of “natural talent.” (I know I’m going to get blasted for that, but it’s an interesting, and I think important, thing to consider).

    We can ALWAYS get better, though, and no one who is great at anything hasn’t worked hard to be so. Writing is a craft. That means doing it. A lot. Now, I have never read a “how to” book on writing in my life, and I don’t really want to. I’m not being snobby by saying that, it’s just how I go about my life and work. Again, I think the best way to learn how to write well is to read a lot and practice. Write a lot.

    This is actually one of the great things about blogs, I think. It allows a writer to practice writing in a public forum.

    But, anyway, that’s my 2 cents. I’ve posted the first chapter of my fantasy novel on my website, so you’re welcome to read it and tell me if you think I’m full of shit. But I’m just putting that offer out there for those who are interested in reading something written by someone who has never read one of those books. BUT, I have read a great deal in my life and also written a great deal. BUT (again), I’m not insulting anyone who DOES read those books. Everyone, and everyone’s working process, will be different. The thing is to find what helps you find your own voice. And in the end, no matter what creative endeavor you’re pursuing, the key is practice, practice, practice.

  7. nymeria87 Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree on that, Robert. First off, of course it can be helpful to read those books, especially if you don’t have too much writing experience yet and want to familiarize yourself with certain structural elements and techniques. Also, you can always learn something new, sure. I’m not trying to be arrogant and saying “Hey I know everything there is about writing”, but I definitely second your point that you can write a good book without ever having as much as looked at any of the How To… books.

    Even after reading a dozen of these your plot may still suck, you may still not have found ‘your’ voice and your characters are nothing but flat stereotypes. After all a good book doesn’t consist of rules, it consists of an intriguing plot and interesting characters that keep the reader turning page after page.

    You’ve mentioned a point that I’ve discussed here earlier; the fact that trying to learn too much about the theory of writing can very easily be an impediment to your story and your very own voice itself. Struggling to keep track of all the rules and techniques that are out there can very easily lead to never getting done with that first draft. It can also be intimidating.

    If you haven’t completed your first draft of your story or novel yet, my advice is definitely: just write for the sake of writing. Get that first draft done and then concentrate on writing techniques and theory when that one draft is done. I’ve done just that and found that I got by rather well, even though I’ve had about 3 months of a break in my writing when I tried to sort things out. In the end I finished the first draft before starting to edit the rest and looking at it now I find that my style and my novel itself has evolved a lot.

    Now’s the time to look at some structural elements, to do a scene by scene analysis of what you’ve written and to see what to improve, what to add, what to scratch. It can also be a time to read some reference books, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

  8. elizaw Says:

    David Gerrold’s book ‘Worlds of Wonder’ is geared toward fantasy and sci-fi. He’s got a nice, casual voice, and part of it are laugh-out-loud funny. (“It is the duty of a writer to chase your hero up a tree and throw rocks at him.”)

  9. How to write books « Robert Walker Online Says:

    […] , Books , Drums , Fantasy , Music , Novels , Writing The other day I happened upon this post by a young writer discussing those “how to” write books. Here’s what I wrote in […]


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