Writing about writing about writing*

This title comes from Tom Bissell’s excellent book Magic Hours and this idea is inspired by his essay of the same title.

As I explained in a previous post I seem to read a lot of writing advice books. However I am running out of shelf space and it’s about time I culled the ones I have. To do so I’m going to re-read them (this will take a while) and decide if it’s a ‘tool’ or not. i.e. is this book something I’ll refer to again.

One For Sorrow

So what I’m going to do is review them here. I have a large shelf worth, and many more on Kindle, so this will be a regular feature. Or at least I aim it to be. Who knows maybe I’ll learn something. There are many more I’ve read and already discarded and there are great many more I’ve neither read, nor have. Potentially I’ll buy some more some day (who am I kidding? I’ll definitely buy some more some day.)

The idea to review them as I go along comes from another writing book: Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer. In it he explains about his leveraging reviewing Penguin’s Great Ideas series to gather material for Booklife. By reviewing the writing books as I go along I’ll be a) gathering my thoughts in a more formal way and b) generating material for this here website (and in a format that hopefully will be helpful for other writers.)

It’s also part of my current process of returning to basics. I wrote more whilst learning to write in 2013-2016 than I wrote in 2017-2020 after being published and supposedly knowing what I’m doing. I’ve been blocked for a long time, or at least felt blocked (I have written a novel since this time last year so maybe not *that* blocked) and I’ve felt the need to give myself a boot up the backside and stop procrastinating and start writing more regularly again. Writers write right?

There are many types of Writing manual (Bissell divides them into How To, Nuts & Bolts, Olympus, Golden Parachutes and in a category all by itself Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life (which I don’t have a copy of))

How To English – Guides for how to craft a sentence. Nothing in these about character or story.

Nuts & Bolts – Creative writing workshops in book form

On Mount Olympus – The philosophy of writing & the writing life

Golden Parachutes – The business of writing (Bissell notes that most of this type of book are written by people who only write self-help books)

This arbitrary division will do to start with – there are subdivisions of course. In Nuts & Bolts there are genre books for example and there are books aimed at specific types of writing, be it non-fiction, poetry, scriptwriting etc. Part of the fun of this is going to be to assign the book to one of these categories (and make an argument as to why it’s there).

I’m going to start with one of the shortest on the shelf, and the one most writers have a copy of: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style

“Most books about writing are filled with bullshit.” Stephen King says in his own writing book On Writing (I do have a copy of that one – and it’s the first writing book I ever read.) Let’s see if he’s right.

Drop a comment with your favourite writing book or tip here or email me via the Contact page. If you’re a publisher or Indie Author and would like me to review your writing book drop me a line!

Published by suttope

Pete W Sutton is a writer and editor. His two short story collections – A Tiding of Magpies and The Museum for Forgetting – were shortlisted for Best Collection in the British Fantasy Awards in 2017 & 2022 respectively. His novel – Seven Deadly Swords – was published by Grimbold Books. He has edited several short story anthologies and is the editor for the British Fantasy Society Horizons fiction magazine.

6 thoughts on “Writing about writing about writing*

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