Books on writing (and why I don’t believe in them)

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You can’t learn writing from a book.

There are hundreds (probably thousands) of writing books out there and some that are even considered essential, like ‘On Writing’ or ‘Elements of Style’.  You can read all the books you want though, but the only thing that is going to make you a better writer is…writing.

Reading is good, great even for a writer.  You should read widely to get a feeling for different styles and to expand your mind, but in my opinion, your reading shouldn’t necessarily include books on writing.  I’ve read a couple and at the end of the day, the main message from all of them is: get writing.  And so they should be.  Everyone has different opinions on what makes a good story, beautiful prose and stunning poetry.  Everyone has a different story to their writing life and, although interesting and sometimes inspiring, hearing the stories of how other people write (or got famous doing it) does little to help make you better.  Sure you can learn grammar rules from books like ‘Elements of Style’ but ideally, before you start trying to be a writer, you actually have a grasp on the basics.

With every writing book I read, the writer tries to guide and suggest and I don’t always agree.  I usually agree with about half of the things they’re saying and wholeheartedly disagree with the other half.  One person suggests writing in a coffee shop is for people who are just seeking attention, but I like the atmosphere and the bustle.  Another person suggests not to show your work in progress, but I love having Ben read my chapters as I go along.  Then, of course, there are the attributes that supposedly describe writers, stuck in your head, crazy, lonely, dramatically melancholy, plagued by stories and characters that kick you in the brain until you writer them.  These things seem to be universal, but I don’t really feel as though they fit into my vision of myself as a writer.  Then, on the flip side, there is the good advice: write every day, don’t be discouraged by rejection, dig deep to find good stories, focus on character.  All sound advice, but frankly it just seems like common sense.

I understand that writing is tough and sometimes you’re just looking for a little inspiration, a little moment where you can read someone else’s story and struggles and realize you are not alone.  The appeal of books on writing is that they allow us to connect with like-minded people.  But other than that, these books offer a wealth of advice I could either take or leave.  Simple logic.  So, ultimately, I hold fast to my original thought on the whole matter:

You can’t learn writing from a book.  The only thing that will make you a better writer is writing.

Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know!

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

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7 thoughts on “Books on writing (and why I don’t believe in them)

  1. I don’t like books on writing either. I think they are marketed to people who have an idea of what ‘being a writer’ means, and they teach them how to become that stereotype. Like how you have to go out and hunt for inspiration, writing down conversations, sights, and such, in your essential writers notebook (a lot of writers have them, and fair enough), and this is the only possible way you’ll ever come up with a story.

    They also take the same few most basic, obvious pieces of advice, the kind of things that anyone who picked up a pen and began writing without any direction would quickly learn, and stretch them out over 300 pages.

    And, as you say, they always talk about reading. In fact, I think every writer, no matter how inexperienced or unqualified to give advice, tells everyone to keep reading. No one ever suggests writing. Reading is important, but I’m pretty sure I became the writer I am because I sat down and did a lot of writing.

    • Oh I totally forgot about ‘writing journals’, I don’t know why people think those are so essential. I have one I guess, my brain. 😉 It also bugs me when people say real writing is done by hand and insist that you do it. Writing by hand is painful and slow and my ideas are forced to come out at the speed I write which is a snails pace.

      But ultimately I couldn’t agree more, just write and you’ll figure it out!

  2. Pingback: Have you ever read a book on writing that actually helped? | Rewan Tremethick

  3. I find books on writing really useful, actually. No, I don’t think they’ll teach me how to write, but I do think they can help me be a better writer.

    Nothing beats practice, but knowing how to avoid some amateur mistakes helps me draft more confidently.

    • I guess it depends on what you are looking to learn and what kind of books you are reading. I find a lot of the book I have read have had less to do with specifics and are more vague which can be kind of annoying.

      • I don’t doubt a lot of them are recycled b.s. 😀 So many ‘do it yourself’ books are. I guess I was lucky to stumble across a couple I found useful!

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