So I was having a conversation with someone recently (someone who also writes). The subject turned to writing, and she told me about a couple of books on writing, particularly novel writing, that she’d picked up at the bookstore recently, and she wanted to know if I had any and that maybe we could read&swap, that sort of thing. I had to confess that the only books to do with writing that I own are a copy of Writers Market (from 2008, I think), and a handful of books that my mother bought me that teach you how to write good college application essays from 5 or 6 years ago. She seemed a little baffled that I’ve been writing for a decade and I’ve not bought (or read, for that matter) one.
From the internet looking that I’ve done, there seems to be a bit of a debate on the issue. Are writers born or made? Do you need to go for the advice of the masters? (Or for those who make a living writing books telling you how to write?) Do they have intrinsic value and will they make you a better writer? Or are they just ways for authors to make more money? (And no, I don’t say that’s necessarily a bad thing.)
The problem, which I know a lot of people discuss independent of books on writing, is that everyone writes differently. Everyone’s mind works differently. My writing process looks bizarre to pretty much anyone who isn’t me, but it works for me. I’ve looked at the snowflake method in the past, and I think it would just irritate the fk out of me, going through all those steps. I’m sure those writing books that I’ve never read have their own methods, which presumably work for the authors in question. But do they work for you? Should a budding writer like myself set out to imitate the so-called masters and learn my own style from there, or should I accept that I’ve got a basic grasp of grammar and syntax and blaze forwards on my own? (I don’t think there’s anyone out there that really thinks an illiterate person should just be given a pen and paper and expect Shakespeare to be produced).
I’ll take my side, which should be fairly obvious. I’m sure that I’ve stumbled this way and that over the past ten years. But I’ve learned what does and doesn’t work for me. Maybe I could have skipped a couple of steps in this process if I’d read some books on writing. Maybe I’d find that Stephen King’s writing methods are perfect for me. I don’t know. Buying books on writing really isn’t on my list of things to do, nor on my list of things that must be purchased. Maybe my writing’s crap, maybe it always will be (and I’ll be the first to tell you that most of it falls close to that description), maybe I’ll never be published. Call me a purist (and I hate that term applied to pretty much anything), but unless someone can give me a good reason to find/read one of these books (except purely for entertainment value – I’ve heard good things about Stephen King’s On Writing, for example), I think I’ll stick with what does and doesn’t work for me, and evolve as the desire takes me.
In other and totally unrelated news, I’ve stumbled onto what looks like an interesting and fun contest. But the deadline is the 12th of February, so if any of you, my dear lurkers, want to enter it you should probably get thinking on it. Even if you don’t, the associated prompt generator looks an incredible amount of fun.
Peace out, lurkers.
EDIT: if you’ve just read this one and not the follow-up post, please do read it before commenting.