How does one salve one’s conscience when one doesn’t actually feel like writing? I’ve begun to think the answer is books on writing. Maybe not creating them because that’s, like, writing, but COLLECTING them is certainly one of the best forms of procrastination going. I have shelves of the suckers. But how useful are they? Once you’re past the “how to format a manuscript” stage, and you know all about grammar, spelling, and punctuation, what can these tomes do for you besides make one look very writerly?
As far as I can tell, these books fall into a few categories. There are reference works for writers: handy-dandy guides to poisons, what happens at a crime scene, how to survive in the Regency era, etc. It’s pretty easy to figure out which of these you need and they are by far my favourite type. Just the facts in small words that even writers can understand. Here are two I go to again and again:
Then there are writing guides that are structure-focussed books. How to write mysteries/ horror/ romance/ bestsellers, etc. Mileage on these varies hugely. I’ve yet to find a really good one on horror. And, even when these guides are good, they need to be applied with common sense. Take romance for instance: Are you really going to use the same approach for writing a Harlequin Presents as for a dark paranormal romance? Hmm—the Cowboy Vampire Firefighter’s Secret Baby Werewolf Surprise?
For good genre-fiction techniques in general, I personally like Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and Bob Mayer’s incomparable Toolkit.
There are books about finding one’s writing inspiration, but I’ve never been inspired to pick them up.
There are also myriad books about individual issues, like dialogue, description, character and so forth. I suppose that one could fill a book with a minute examination about one of these topics, but I’m not sure I’d want to read it. The best straight-up advice I’ve found is in Stephen King’s On Writing. He has a fabulous way of getting right to the point. I’ve pulled more nuggets out of this volume than any other, and only half of it is how-to.
I’m sure there are plenty of other fabulous choices, and some might be gathering dust, unread, on my shelf. The point is that I think once you’ve found those craft guides that resonate with your process, those are the keepers. It won’t be the same list for everyone, and that’s okay.