• On Writing Manuals

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 2 comments

    My favorite stories generally have a pace similar to that of a short sprint, which is to say very fast. Sometimes I like slow-burning plots where it feels more like a cautious walk through a haunted house and every creak and moan must be examined, but often I get fed up with the repetitive nature of those kinds of stories. My favorites are more oriented toward doing than thinking. Which is probably why I have never liked reading writing manuals: essays that deal with technique, form, characterization, etc. but are more pontification than calls to action.

    In March I made it my mission to read every essay in Bringing The Devil to His Knees because I convinced myself that I was a bad writer if I didn’t. I thought that my reading this book I had owned for six or seven years would somehow make me like reading essays about writing, or that it would make me a better write. But it didn’t on either count. Most of my notes consist of breaking down the structure of each essay–most of which start with a personal anecdote and at one point become a love letter to their favorite author/story. It only reinforced my preconceived notion that writing manuals are a waste of time.

    (More from this author: Color My Words“)

    In April I made it my mission to read No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty, and I was wowed by how little it theorized about what makes writing great. It’s more about what it often takes to make a great story: starting with a crappy first draft.

    Reading writing manuals is definitely something serious writers need to do. In college I was taking a desktop publishing class and my professor talked about widows (single line of text at the top of a page that has been cut off from the rest of the paragraph due to a page break) and orphans (a single word at the end of a paragraph that has been knocked down to the next line because of a line break). Until I knew that I had never seen an orphan or a widow in a book, but ever since then I have been on lookout for them.

    (More: Resources For Writers)

    Same goes with writing techniques: it’s easier to note what is working and what you like if you have a foundation to base it on. Yes, reading essays about writing can feel ridiculous because you’d rather read a book with a plot (or write a book with a plot), but the next time you put pen to paper (or finger to key) challenge yourself to use one thing you learned from a writing instructional.

    If you make every essay a call to action, you may be surprised at how differently you feel about wasting your time reading these books about writing.


    Jacqui Bryant’s love for reading, ability to create adventure, and general curiosity for all things unconventional in life may outweigh her ability to write well. But she hopes not. 


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    Laura Roberts

    I think writing manuals are a bit obnoxious because people are usually expected (or expecting) to read them straight through. What drudgery! Instead, I think writers would do better to subscribe to some type of study site, where things like grammar and punctuation are discussed, one thing at a time, one item per day. That way you’d get one thing to ponder and learn about, in a bite-sized chunk, to keep up with for a few minutes each day… instead of trying to memorize an entire lifetime’s-worth of information on How To Write Good. I’ve heard that Grammar Girl is… Read more »

    Steven Wright

    “If you make every essay a call to action, you may be surprised at how differently you feel about wasting your time reading these books about writing.”

    Yes but how much anxiety do you create when you do such a process? Writing should be a flow activity where it pours out, then later through analysis we can put it into a comprehensible fashion. Until then, worrying about books about book writing, is like having an anti-virus program, its an initial piece of software for your brain to have to calculate and get in the way of true genius,

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