Welcome to the monthly Insecure Writer’s Support Group post. This month’s question is the following:
What is your favorite writing craft book? Think of a book that every time you read it you learn something or you are inspired to write or try the new technique. And why?
I don’t know that I have a favorite writing craft book. I’ve read so many over the years that it’s hard to say which one offered which piece of advice. And advice which was useful twenty or thirty years ago is not necessarily advice which is useful now, either because I have fully internalized it, or because I decided it wasn’t right for me at that time.
Leaving aside textbooks and style guides like Strunk and White, my first advice book was Natalie Goldberg‘s Writing Down the Bones. That was probably in 1989 or 1990, so I don’t remember much of it, other than that it (along with pressure from my Russian Studies professors) encouraged me to begin keeping a journal, a practice which I have continued to this day.
The most recent advice book I have read is Chuck Wendig‘s Damn Fine Story, which broke down story structure in a way which I had not seen before. Unfortunately I haven’t done much prose writing since completing this book, so I couldn’t say if it is useful to me, though it was a lot of fun to read.
Over the years I have of course read a great many advice books. Stephen King‘s On Writing, Tobias Buckell‘s It’s All Just a Draft, Ursula K. Le Guin‘s Steering the Craft, and I am sure many others which I am not thinking of at the moment.
I think I learn more about the writing craft from exposure and imitation than from studying. “Reading well”, as Dr. Karen Lord advises, is for me the single most indispensable piece of advice for my craft. The books I love, the authors whose poetry and prose I most admire, are the best available writing inspiration.
But imitation by itself is not enough, despite Hunter S. Thompson‘s practice of typing out books by Fitzgerald and Hemingway, word by word, in order to better understand how they wrote. Reading and re-reading my favorite authors gives me the tools to parrot their style, but doing so does not necessarily allow me to understand why their words work as well as they do. That is where books of writing advice can be vital. Books on the writing craft allow us to decipher why something works and, more importantly, why other things do not.
I don’t want to be the next Roger Zelazny. I want to be the first (or at least current) John Winkelman.
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