Reading Books on Writing
by Sarah M. Chen
I’m reading all this and wondering if I’m a horrible person because I don’t have a lot of books on writing, whether it’s craft, inspiration, or memoirs by famous writers. It’s not like I don’t think they’re a great idea. As writers, we’re by nature alone and work in a vacuum. It’s easy to become disillusioned and on the verge of heaving your laptop across the room. Reading someone else’s writing journey or how they coped with the frustration of being a writer is comforting. Or learning a new way to write realistic villains is surely worth a quick read.
Now I admit, I read many writing books in school. I mean, it’s school, so we kind of have to, right? I studied screenwriting so the books I read were Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, and Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. I have to say that the lessons learned in these books have stuck with me to this day. Even though they were geared mostly toward screenwriting, I found they can be applied to any type of storytelling.
Friends who found out I was following my writerly dream bought me books like Brenda Ueland’s If You Want To Write: A Book about Art, Independence, and Spirit. I’m sure it’s a lovely book but I had no desire to crack it open. I feel awful for admitting it (and I apologize now if you’re the friend who bought this for me). And I hear amazing things about Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I keep telling myself one day, I’ll buy these books but really, I’m just lying to myself.
I do find quick bursts of inspiration and handy writing tips with crime fiction blogs. In addition to Type M for Murder, you have SleuthSayers, Criminal Minds, Do Some Damage, The Thrill Begins, and Kill Zone. I also have a printout of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing near my computer because—well, it’s Elmore Leonard.
But let’s not forget what truly inspired all of us to write great crime fiction: crime fiction books. For me, reading crime fiction (interspersed with YA titles) energizes me and gives me that needed boost. I know many writers can’t read fiction while they’re working on something but I don’t find that to be a problem. Although sometimes it backfires and I realize I’m a total fraud. But that’s a blog post for another time.
So what about you? Are there books on craft and writing that you swear by? Or are you like me, and you can’t generate enthusiasm for reading anything but fiction and the occasional blog post?
Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. She has published over twenty crime fiction short stories with Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Betty Fedora, Out of the Gutter, and Dead Guns Press, among others. Her debut book, Cleaning Up Finn, is out now with All Due Respect Books. www.sarahmchen.com