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January 5, 2022

            This is something I’ve alluded to countless times here at Fred Central. If you didn’t already know, I’ll go through it again. First, let me bring up the question.

            Should you go out and buy books on writing?

            There are countless books on writing out there.

            The two most popular that I can think of are Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and of course, On Writing by Stephen King.

            There are countless others.

            Some will swear by either.

            Don’t forget the basics either, the reference books like Chicago Manual Of Style.

            All of these are the biggies.

            Let’s also not forget the various web sources like here at Fred Central (of course) and the outstanding sites from Richie Billing and others.

            All of us do our best to dole out writing advice.


            If you’re an avid reader, especially if you read more than just fiction, will you, in all practicality, make use of any of these tomes (or web sites)?

            Will any of this advice sink in?

            That’s the question of the day.

            Everyone has a different method of learning. Be it visual, reading, oral, or task-oriented, just like when you get a questionnaire from the doctor or when you get admitted to the hospital. They’ll ask you your best learning method (along with language). The same goes for these books.

            Just because you’re a writer and maybe already an author doesn’t mean reading and studying books on the subject is the best way to learn how to hone your craft.

            Maybe it is, to a point.

            An entire books-worth?


            The reality is that most of us are deep into writing well-before we have even heard about these books. Then, if we ever pick one up, do we read the entire tome, or just cherry pick what we want? Then, is the book organized so that we can cherry pick?


            Is it a rambling tome with the writer’s thoughts jotted down in a disorganized manner?

            Say it’s organized.

            So what?

            How do you know where you need to look?

            How do you know where your problem is?

            Is the book organized in such a way as to clearly explain to you what issues you may have? Does the book clearly explain what you need to do to write that next blockbuster? Does it satisfactorily give you what you need? Does that web site allow you to cherry pick the info you want?

            For most writers, these books, and a lot more end up being supplements to their learning and writing process. None of them are the panacea they need to write their big blockbuster, or even maybe their first anything. They need a lot more. Therefore they (well most of us) end up with a shelf full of books.


            Through my decades at this passion, I once ended up with a shelf full of books on writing.

            You know what?

            I barely cracked open any of them except to smell the pages, glance at a few bits of text, and shelve them.

            Yup, that’s right.

            I never finished more than a single paragraph of any of them, except one.

            The only one I ever kept and used to any extent was the Chicago Manual of Style. I still use it. The rest I donated to the Henderson Writer’s Group.

            So, how did I learn, and continue to learn?


            Okay, not the last part, but I learned by old school hockey. I typed until my fingers bled, hiked to the computer through the snow and tundra, uphill both ways, through the desert (okay it doesn’t make sense but go with it), and you know, hard knocks.

            I took one class on college writing for term papers in the Community College Of The Air Force (CCAF) back in 1985 or so. One of my old supervisors taught me the fascist method of writing, which I won’t go into here. Too long of a story.

            To make a long story short, I learned by trial and error and with some outstanding mentors and great (and one bad) writer’s groups. I learned by writing, and writing, and writing. The thing is that I never did it as a hobby. It was a passion, and I spent many hours doing it.

            While I may have veered here and there, I also kept focused enough and read enough, and worked by example enough that I didn’t stray too far off the beaten path. I studied what I read and worked by example. I mean the stuff I read for pleasure had a great influence on what I wrote for pleasure. The tenses, the point of view, the story flow all had an influence on how I wrote, and still write.

            So, when I see others write about how to do it in books, it’s rehashing the stuff I learned on my own by observation and trial and error.

            Therefore, sampling and smelling, and shelving those books was going to happen for me.

            Should that be what you do?

            It all depends on how you learn, how serious you are about this passion (or hobby), and what your goals are.


            If your goal is to gather a library full of books on writing, go for it. If you actually use any of them, so much the better.

            If you’re looking for shortcuts, well…not sure if books on writing will help or not. I guess that all depends on how you learn.

            If you’re like me, I prefer learning by doing, observing, by example, and by reading others work. Sure, it takes longer, but then again, does it really? I was a reader long before I was a writer. Weren’t most of us? Plus, who says you can’t do both simultaneously?

            There are many paths to your goal. Use them wisely.

            Happy writing!

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