This week I wanted to talk about various books and resources which I personally have found useful. This isn’t gospel, but I figured it would be helpful for people out there who are beginning to dip their toe into the waters of creative writing.
I’ve been doing this for a long time now; as I’ve explored in other posts, I’ve been writing creatively since I could hold a pencil and form letters and words. Those initial years were not informed by anything but my childish imagination. It was only around the ages of 12-13 that I began to try to get some writing advice beyond what I was taught at school.
Until I was around 17, I’d look most of it up on the internet. There’s a lot out there on the web, and honestly if you didn’t want to spend anything, you could teach yourself a lot. The trouble is, a lot of it is a) very much the same stuff and b) …. there’s a lot of it. Where do you start?
Those were the two problems that I ran into. They don’t really seem like problems, but let me put it to you this way.
A – means that most of your time looking for stuff ends up being reading the same stuff just worded differently. I suppose that’s alright, if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, or one article explains it to you in a way that makes the content more accessible and easier to understand. But you don’t want to spend so much time trying to find the right articles for you, only to find that you’ve already read a similar thing. You do get quite a well-rounded summary of things this way, though.
B – means that you spend EVEN MORE time trying to find certain bits of advice.
Aside from that, there really is only so much I believe you can find on the internet. And the trouble with all this is that really, you don’t know what you don’t know at first. That’s why I turned to buying physical books that had stuff in it. Because I learned and practised what I could from information I could get through Google, and taught myself to a certain level. Past that? I couldn’t conceive it. I didn’t know how to improve; I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and then I was stuck. It wasn’t until I got to university that I noticed which bad habits I’d picked up, began to realise that I didn’t know how to do some things quite as well as I thought, and started to unpick all the mistakes I usually made.
I’m good at being self-critical; but it used to be very hard for me to take critique. I needed someone to point me in the right direction if I was going to improve. From this, I got a LOT of good book recommendations.
I was already reading ‘Stephen King: On Writing’ before I began my course. This is one of the most recommended writing books out there, I’d say. It’s worth a read, all the way through; don’t just read the first half and skip the last. It’s all good stuff. If you’re not a fan of King, his advice is still relatively sound.
Second: Richard McKee; ‘Story’. McKee is talking about scriptwriting here, but as one of my tutors pointed out to me, the elements of what a script consists of and what a novel or short story has are essentially the same. They’re cross compatible skills and lessons which you can find in ‘Story’, so it’s worth a read.
Third: ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott. This book turned up in a TV series I like to watch, so I began searching it online to find that it’s got a load of writing advice in it. I’m yet to invest time into reading this properly, but it’s highly recommended and you can often find it quite cheap online.
There’s plenty more out there to get your teeth into, but these are my top 3 recommended books. Once you master basics, you’ll probably be more savvy at finding what sort of articles and advice you’d like to read. My advice when starting out is: read as much as you can, whether that’s fiction, non-fiction, or writing advice. Then, once you have practiced a bit more and you know what you like to write and you know what you’re good at, you can delve into other areas.
You’ll know what you can improve to make even better, and you know what you can work on to get up to scratch. My advice after this point would be: go back to what you’ve already read, and realise that you only need to take out the parts which matter to you. Some of the parts of ‘On Writing’ really don’t apply to me; I don’t think it’s good advice for my way of thinking, working, whatever.
You have to realise that people trying to give writing advice are only giving one side of the story; they are giving their best advice, what worked for them, what is good to get you started. I’m the same. There are some basics which everyone has to work on, but only you can master yourself and your individual way of working.
What are your favourite books on writing? Let me know; Tweet or Comment!