Monday, September 24, 2012

Writing How-To Books

The other day, a student told me how much she was enjoying Ray Bradbury's Zen and the Art of Writing, and I had to admit I'd never read it! It's a bit of a classic, and I know a few writers who love it but I just hadn't got around to it. I plan to rectify that soon. But there are a lot of writing books out there. I often take some of mine into class. When I teach Story Structure, I use Vogler's The Writer's Journey, as well as Jordan Rosenfeld's Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time

And I often talk about Write Away by Elizabeth George. She does a great job of showing you how to use setting and description, but mostly what I got from her book was my own method - finally - of how to plot and outline. She talks about thinking through her story until she comes up with at least 15 major dramatic scenes. Somehow, that caused one of those weird connections for me, and I came up with a plotting grid that works. But it might only work for me. I show it to the students and some nod, but most look mystified. I can see them thinking: how could you plot with that? I just do. It works for me.

It's the same with writing books. There are some I would happily give away because they don't "speak" to me at all, and I disagree with their methodology. Writing books are not cheap. You can often pick them up secondhand, but if it's not the book for you, you've wasted your money. If you look at all the books on plotting, you'll see there are plenty. Same with characters, dialogue, structure, and just general writing stuff. So many to choose from that you hardly know where to start. Our library at VU where I teach has a good range of titles, and even more as ebooks. I tell students - use the library. Read a few. See which ones work for you.

It's a funny thing - you can go to several classes about fiction writing, or poetry, or writing picture books, and they will all tell you similar things. But one day you will go to a class and somehow the teacher will say those things in a way that zaps you, that makes you understand the theory in a whole new way. It's the same with writing books. When you find one you love, buy it and add it to your shelf. You'll find you come back to it every now and then, just for that "shot in the arm" that gets you writing again.

Now, where can I get a copy of Bradbury's book?


paul's pen n paint said...

Hi Sherryl, I just read your blog on how to books. You are so right with the fact that writers will have a different way of writing and that one book / style / system works for them and not for others. I will try and pick up a few of the books you mentioned, starting with Zen and the Art of Writing. I was talking to my niece yesterday, (she is a journalist) and she was saying that it was hard for her to get out of the journalist mind set and write a novel. I said if you can write as a journalist you will write that novel. My niece just has to find the system / mindset that works for her and I am sure that she will eventually find that “zone”.
I am just starting to get into that “zone” myself, as I started a few years ago to paint, then to write poems. Now - I am really keen to write a novel that I have been thinking about writing for years! It seems that when you open up a creative mind set, many different forms of art, in the form of painting and writing start to surface.

Sherryl said...

You're right about that! I never understand people who want to write but don't read. Reading inspires me - all kinds of reading does. It helps me get into the zone you were talking about.
You reminded me of the books on creativity that Eric Maisel writes - a lot of good strategies and ideas in those.