Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Hate... Writing Books

writing books nevermore?

I don't, not really. There are about 1000 creative writing books that give good, solid advice, advice I could use. But I made a mistake with writing books. I bought them by the truck load before I began writing.

This isn't as daft as it sounds. I like to learn from books, so when I was getting married I bought married-type books. When I was pregnant, I bought baby-having books. I like to be prepared, though I'm woefully aware that how-to books only give you a foundation, a peek at a real experience.

So I figured writing how-to books would do the same. They'd help me understand what was involved. You don't read a cookbook after the souffle has flattened into a discus, do you? So I figured I had to read as many writing books as I could before getting started.

If I'd known myself better, I would have realized that this was grade A procrastination. Another problem was that everything described in the how-tos was abstract. Don't use these dialogue tags. Show don't tell. Make the reader feel the emotion. These books always have example text included to show good writing and bad. The good writing is always the Great Gatsby and the bad writing is always someone you've never heard of. But until I had completed my own book and revised the crap out of it, until I understood writing terms not only intellectually but by instinct, all that advice was so much noise.

Until. (You knew that was coming.)

Hooked by Les Edgerton

My beta reader extraordinaire, Becky Levine, after reading my book's first chapter, recommended Hooked to me. The fact that she recommended a writing book to me after my first chapter made me cry inside, just a smidge. OK, a lot. I thought I was beyond writing books - I'd read them and they hadn't helped - and being told I needed schooling did not feel warm and fuzzy.

Hooked is about beginnings and how getting the beginning right can have a positive knock on effect on your whole book. The beginning is a microcosm of the whole book. And if it isn't in your book, you may have a problem.

But here's the amazing part. After reading the first three chapters of Hooked, I knew what to do. I mean, I knew exactly what was missing in my first chapter. And a new scene, with Fin, Hero, a cleaver and a chicken, bloomed in my mind, complete. It was perfect. In a short, mundane kind of scene, I set up characters, set up conflict, story problem, surface problem AND foreshadowed the end. SLAM DUNK.

I couldn't have done that without writing BookEnd first. I wouldn't have understood what was missing. I sure as heck couldn't have come up with a solution without understanding my book the way I do now that it's finished.

So, if you are just starting to write and you haven't finished your book, I say save your money for lattes and chocolate to get you to the writing finish line. Then get Hooked. It will open your eyes.

What's your favorite writing book?


  1. I'm glad you found a good one! I think reading advice books that give concrete advice/examples/exercises or whatever are the key. If you aren't writing as you read the advice, it remains too abstract.

  2. I love those good books! Some of them, I think, are okay to read before you start writing seriously, but not before you have some experience with writing. Then when you read that great writing book that actually helps - it's wonderful. :)

  3. I've heard about this book before. I'm the same way with writing books--most of them repeat the same things and I've learned a lot more from just sitting down and writing.

    But I will have to check this one out!

  4. @Ru, @ bethany - do you guys have any fav writing books you want to share? not everyone's experience is like mine, and I have heard from several writers that Stephen King's On Writing got them to commit to being serious writers. It just didn't do it for me.

  5. Thanks so much for this suggestion! I'll have to look it up.

  6. HUGS!!!! You were awfully good at hiding those feelings, but I wondered... Do you know how often I still go back to writing books. The only reason I'm not re-reading Hooked right now is because I know I don't know enough about my story yet to tackle that first chapter again. I'm SO glad the book clicked for you & that you're feeling charged up! Because, you know, I really am loving YOUR book. :)

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Personally I don't read writing books because I'm afraid I might find out that I'm doing something wrong. I'm published and have been writing for almost 40 years. The last thing I want to find out is that I've been doing it wrong all this time. :)

    Resources For Writers

  8. The book looks great, and I'm definitely going to borrow that bad boy. I can't say I necessarily have a favorite writing book, because I read all of them before I wrote. Doh! Anne Lamont's Bird by Bird and King's On Writing, plus all the articles I've ripped from Poets & Writers and Writer's Digest.

  9. @Becky - you are way too nice to me! Not to mention generous. When I feel badly about all the revisions I have to do (cringe) I read your emails and you make me feel better, more confident. Stop it. You're too nice!
    @White Feather - I'm NOT published, and I still have that fear - that reading writing books will discourage me!
    @Laura - I love all Anne Lamont's books. Seriously, a doodle on the back of a napkin from her, I would frame. But definitely try Hooked!


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