Monday, 5 September 2011

What I learned from books on writing

I sometimes miss that blissful time when I wrote my first novel, unaware that there were dozens of books out there presenting countless rules and recommendations for what I was attempting to do. I've picked up a few things since then, and the advice that has resonated often had little to do with the actual writing and everything to do with the attitudes that might make the difference between being a productive writer or a frustrated one.

On Writing by Stephen King:
I learned from King's recounting of his years spent collecting rejection slips that those little forms are not symbols for "Failed Writer". You place the slip in the appropriate file and move on.




The War of Art by Steven Pressfield:
Mr. Pressfield wrote this book for me. He turns a spotlight on writers' block in all its manifestations: fear, resistance, procrastination, obsessiveness, self-dramatization, self-medication, victimhood, self-doubt, toxic relationships, support (yes, you read that right), and rationalization. Then he tells you how to combat it all, and his recommendation is simple: You turn pro. How does a professional approach his work? Apply the same principles to your writing and see the difference.

"A professional shows up every day."
"A professional demystifies."
"A professional acts in the face of fear."
"A professional does not show off."
"A professional self-validates."

There's lots more, and it's all written with the authority that comes only from first-hand experience, aka the school of hard knocks.

Page After Page by Heather Sellers:
Here's another writer who demystifies. She knows that declarations like 'waiting for my muse' are nothing but lame excuses. "It's a matter of sitting down, conjuring a state of complete dedication and complete openness, and writing. Putting pen to paper." No hocus-pocus there.

What else did she teach me? To talk less about writing, and write more. That except for a very few lucky souls, being published (finally!) does not change your life. You won't be rich and famous, loved and admired by everyone, rail-thin and immune to chocolate binges. You'll still have to deal with all your bumps and warts; those don't disappear once you get published.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White:
This book gives great advice on the fine points of usage, common errors, and style. There was little in there I didn't already know after having taught the language for 22 years, but that slim book clarified something vital I had hitherto understood only superficially: the US version of my mother tongue is a very different beast from the UK version I was taught.

I've got two more books on writing lined up: Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, the title of which has just the sort of new-agey tone I'm a sucker for. (Did someone mention the word demystify?) Next to it on my bedhead bookshelf is The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I'll be sure to let you know what I learn from those in a later post.

Liane Spicer

2 comments:

Debs Carr said...

The only one of these I have is Stephen King's book which is excellent. Thanks for the heads up with the others.

Liane Spicer said...

You're welcome, Debs. BTW, I love Stephen King's On Writing. It reads as beautifully as his fiction. Of course it doesn't hurt that I find the lives of writers fascinating.