Indie Author Seeley James shares which Books On Writing have helped him most and which didn't so much.
I own 30+ books about the craft of writing. Yes, I’ve read them. Most of them. Some I abandoned after a few pages. Each of them taught me something.
A few were amazing. Oddly enough, the highly recommended books are not so good. So, I jotted down my thoughts about the three I found most helpful and two that made me think, 'What the heck...?'
First, understand my slant: I like to read and write thrillers. My goal is to entertain as many people as possible. If your goal is to write character-driven, world-changing literature, these reviews may or may not mean as much to you.
Second, I like to read books that tell me how to be a better writer. How to improve my action sequence. How to figure out why my pacing is off. Why no one feels my main character’s pain. When to do this instead of that. I like to read a book and immediately launch into notes for improving my manuscript. If the book I’m reading doesn’t stimulate my creative process, then I’m not enamored.
Third, on my blog, I’ve begun writing about my ideas on the craft of writing in a series called The Architecture of Writing because the one thing all these books have in common: they’re too long. The points made in each could be summed up in a PowerPoint deck and dropped on us to take or leave as we wish.
Two books that make me worry about the people who recommend them:
1. Writing the Breakout Novel (by Donald Maass) - While Mr. Maass is a top agent who cites great works of literature and describes why they were great, it rarely says anything about how to actually write a breakout novel. I found myself nodding and thinking, ‘yeah, he’s right, that was a great book.’ But never did I jot down a note to follow up on later.
My takeaway: some writers wrote some really good books.
2. On Writing (by Stephen King) - Yeah, blasphemy, I know. I’m a heretic. It’s a great book about a literary celebrity. I was fascinated by his story and his life experience. He has one passage about his editing process. And he railed against plotting. Otherwise, it was a memoir. (OK, so he’s been writing since he was 10 and he plots intuitively. Does that mean the rest of us are not getting it?)
My takeaway: Always have a book in your hand.
Three books that drove my imagination and made me take notes:
1) Techniques of the $elling Writer, Dwight Swain (1982) - Yes, I am recommending an obscure writer who taught at the University of Oklahoma fifty years ago. The references to starlets long gone are amusing and younger readers will have to study some of his literary references but he explains technique at the sentence and paragraph level. With right way and wrong way examples, no less. Read this and you will have a much better grip on why your last story flopped and how to make your next sing.
My takeaway: Tactics.
2) Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King (2004)- Another oldie but goodie. And I mean goodie. This one explains story structure and pacing with a little more meat on the bones than Swain’s work. Where he gives you paragraph tactics, this offers concepts for story strategy. At the same time, this book picks nits that will have you running for your editing notes. And the best part is — the authors formed a company offering indie authors professional services.
My takeaway: Strategy.
3) The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler (1998-2007) - This is the most important book a novelist can own. Mr. Vogler presents it as the foundation for every story ever told. Not true. However, it is the most comprehensive explanation of classic stories like Star Wars and Wizard of Oz. You do not need to follow his example. You do need to understand the structural underpinnings that have formed classic stories from Odysseus to Harry Potter. My favorite author, Lee Child, has never applied this method. My second favorite author, James Rollins, always applies this method. Whether you use it or not, knowing it - helps you form a stronger story.
My takeaway: Structure.
There are many more good and not-so-good books out there. I’ve only listed three of my many faves. What books taught you the most about the craft?
- Seeley James -
About the Author
He recently published a collection of short stories on Amazon called Short Thrills, and has a full length novel, The Geneva Decision, coming soon. He has been published in The Battered Suitcase and online journals, and has been a Finalist for DeMarini Award.
Interesting Fact: At age nineteen and single, he took the unusual step of adopting a three-year-old girl and raising her for the next thirty-six years.
Please, leave some comments or questions for the Author at the end of this post!
Links to the Author and Books
Link to Seeley James's Blog
Connect with Seeley James on Twitter: @SeeleyJamesAuth
Link to Seeley James's Short Thrills (5 Short Stories) on Amazon