I’ve run into several forum posts about whether or not writers need to read books on writing. I used to think that the only thing necessary is practice. If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book the Outliers, you know his basic thought is that in order to become an expert all you need to do is practice 10,000 hours. But I’d add a caveat: practice with knowledge and make sure your effort is aimed at getting better.
I wrote a couple of drafts of Saint Peter Killed God and no one was interested. My thought was, I’ve written two other books that weren’t published – I have experience writing a complete novel – so why is no one interested? I found a writing coach on line and he suggested I read a lot of books similar to my one and ones on writing. I resisted. I didn’t need any help, but slowly I began to read one, and then another. I have to admit, they’ve helped me tremendously. Here are some of my favorites (and please, add your favorites on writing – I’m always looking for good books):
1. The Writer’s Journey by Vogler and Myth and the Movies by Voytilla. When I taught creative writing, one of my students asked how can authors write an entire novel? The answer is in the Writer’s Journey, written by a Hollywood guy who often had to “touch-up” scripts to make them more in line with the hero’s journey. What I also found interesting is the section on characters. There are seven types that all have a purpose. If my characters didn’t have a role, I either gave him one or cut him.
There is some debate that creativity is sacrificed by following a formula. I can see that point. But when I read Myth and the Movies, I saw how it’s repeated in countless movies in unique and original ways. A writer doesn’t have to follow every sequence in the writer’s journey. I’ve skipped steps and didn’t go through the entire process in my book. But when I conformed to the structure a bit, it became much better. And when I watch a movie that doesn’t follow the hero’s pattern at all, I don’t enjoy the movie as much. It feels like it’s missing something.
2. Characters and Viewpoints by Orson Scott Card – The first part of this book focuses on character. It’s interesting an interesting read, but what helped me the most was viewpoints. I didn’t know when to use first or third person. After reading it, I decided it’s better to do a third person deep penetration (I believe that’s what he called it – it doesn’t sound right) instead of the first person.
3. Beginnings, Middles, and Ends by Nancy Cress – It’s interesting to see what she views as necessary in each section of a book. Love the examples. It was fun to read.
4. The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes – this is short writings that take just a few minutes to read. Some of obvious. Some helped. I may have disagreed with some of what he said, but it’s a good read and helps when thinking about editing.
5. The Art and Craft of Novel Writing by Hall– I’d recommend this to teachers as well as writers. It goes in depth with all sorts of pieces of fiction you might not have considered before. It helps expand one’s knowledge and gives good examples. The only knock is that it informs more than directs.
6. On Writing – Stephen King – many people site this one as inspirational. I’ve just named five books that I’ve found more helpful. But I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t like this book or if it didn’t help. In short, I suggest reading about writing if you are a writer or plan on becoming one. It helps shape the direction I was going in and helped. As my coach told me, doctors, lawyers, et al go to school to study and get special degrees for their craft. Why is writing any different? Shouldn't writers become experts by at least reading about their craft? Of course he also taught in the master of fiction department.