Why Rei Doesn’t Like Writing Craft Books

When I was in high school, I decided that writing was the only thing I’m any good at (still true) and as there were no creative writing classes in my high school, as usual, I turned to outside-of-school sources to educate and illuminate my increasing seriousness about writing. 
My English teachers (when not force-feeding Shakespeare down my gullet; you’d think he was the only playwright who ever wrote in the English language. Or when they weren’t reading far too much into the type of hat Holden Caulfield wore) taught us the basic literary devices. Similies. Metaphors. Allusions. Ambiguity. 
But I wanted to know basic sort of writing questions, so basic that they may qualify as stupid questions. 

Things like: 
  • I know that authors can’t seriously sit around for hours and hours and decide that this one hat is going to symbolize this annoying character’s quest to not grow up. What’s with all this goddamn symbolism my teachers keep talking about? (Can you tell I’m not a Catcher in the Rye fan?)
  • How do authors extend an idea into a whole long, complex book?
  • How do you finish the book? How do you not want to smash your head into your desk? 
  • How do you round out characters?
So I perused the writing books corner at my local Barnes & Noble. I bought a few writing books, perused a few chapters of other ones.

And I found them to be, for the most part, fairly useless–at least at that stage. They were pedantic. Condescending. There were literary references and examples that I didn’t understand. There were complicated forms and charts that purportedly would map out your entire story. They were dry. They made assumptions. They were clearly an ego boost to the author. They read like the author was stuck up his own ass. They weren’t particularly helpful.

Of course, over time in various writing classes, I had to read bits and pieces from craft books or from articles written by literary giants. I liked those better, but I couldn’t always see a way to apply their advice to myself. Writers develop their skills at different paces.

I’ve always learned better outside of school than in it, so I read as much as I could. I analyzed why I liked the prose in one book versus another one, why I liked these characters instead of those, why I liked a particular genre.

I read a lot of author blogs (you can see them below in the Blog Roll) and I find that the informal style of a blog as well as the discussions that can arise have been more helpful to me than craft books.

And of course, there are the unique dynamics of workshops. But that’s for another blog on another day. 

During last year’s NaNoWriMo, I saw a tweet from Writer’s Digest (whose books, I must say, have usually been on the less annoying end of the writing craft scale) about free e-books.

So I downloaded a few. I was saving reading The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing for when I was ready to revise, hoping to gain pointers for improvement.

Like any writing craft book, there’s information I will definitely take on board for its insight, and then there’s just annoying, niggling advice that rubs me the wrong way.

Complete Handbook covers the writing process from ideas straight through to dealing with publishing, building a platform and marketing. I didn’t read the publishing, platform and marketing chapters–I did, after all, learn that through school and internships and it’s not relevant to where I am in my current writing process with this current book.

Here’s what I enjoyed about this book: each chapter is written by a different author. Which means that you get different perspectives, a different style and a different advice. So, if you don’t like what someone has to say on writing habits or character building, for instance, then you can just read the next chapter and see if that advice jives with you instead.

There were chapters on different genres, as well as interviews with best-selling authors. So, I have to say, this is one craft book that I liked. I hope to find more of its ilk. What craft books do you find helpful?

    One thought on “Why Rei Doesn’t Like Writing Craft Books

    1. I often think the same thing about writing craft books. They're not so helpful and you're totally right about the condescending tone!


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