Writing is the art of strangling distraction.
Mostly what we do is sit alone at our desks and do whatever we can to not write.
A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
We make a sandwich at the slightest hint of hunger. We let a web search for the correct spelling of a word turn into a journey into the natural history of Eurasian deer. We even, god forbid, bend over a sink full of dirty dishes or vacuum the spiderwebs from the corners of the ceiling.
We writers might be more skilled at finding distractions than words.
Some of the worst distractions to the act of writing are books on writing.
You’d think writing books would be a boon to writers.
And they are. To a degree.
But too often while looking for that perfect answer about side character arcs or plot points or rules of world building, we are just avoiding the task of writing.
After all, it is easier to read a book than to write a book.
So, in honor of today’s unraveling thread of distraction, here are my top 5 books getting in the way of actually writing:
5 APE by Kawasaki and Welch
It is less a book about how to write but rather about how to publish in the brave new digital world.
This is the book to which my iPad Kindle app immediately opens up.
It’s comprehensive and helps me get the compass bearings when it comes to the self-publishing process. I especially like that it digs in deep in exploring some of the questions that I am wrestling with: which digital platforms, understanding print-on-demand publication, ISBNs and everything else I need to know to be what they term “an artisanal publisher.”
This is the primer you want in hand if you want to self-publish.
4 Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress
Really good fiction.
She is the winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards for her science fiction work.
For the past two summers, I have been thinking of attending the Taos Toolbox, a two week science fiction and fantasy master workshop that she teaches with Walter Jon Williams.
Unfortunately, I have had a conflict in my schedule that has prevented me from attending the workshop.
Luckily, I have Kress’s Dynamic Characters within easy reach.
This is one of those books that I am not sure that I will ever finish reading.
And I mean this as a complement.
Every time I sit down to read this, I don’t get more than ten pages into the book before I immediately go back to my stories and begin incorporating her suggestions into the text.
This is a writer’s book.
3 The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
It is an indispensable book for writers.
We open it up and search for whether we should be using lain or laid.
But it is also one of those books full of rules that can cause the writer to freeze. What I supposed to use that or which?
One thing a writer does not need is paralysis in getting the words on the page.
Sometimes we just need to get the words on the page, and come back later to fix them.
Which brings us to our next book.
2 Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King
Writing the first draft of a story is not enough.
In a lot of ways, the writing does not even begin until you start editing it. It’s like the story of the sculptor chipping away at the block of marble until the statue’s true shape is found.
That first draft is a lot like the uncarved block.
The editing is what gives it its shape, its lines of beauty, a form that the viewer can appreciate.
Editing can also be the most difficult part of the writing process. Where do I begin? What do I change? What story am I really trying to tell?
If I just fix all the typos, am I editing?
This book teaches the writer how to approach editing their own work in well organized chapters on topics such as point of view, dialogue and pacing.
1 Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer
This book is brilliant.
And not just because it has lots of illustrations.
More than any other writing book I have read, Wonderbook feels like a master class in how to write.
It is inspiring and at the same time offers practical advice. Vandermeer draws from his own writing and in the section I am currently mulling over, he is explaining how he went about choosing the type of opening for his story.
In addition to sharing his own wisdom, he has also recruited other authors to share their knowledge including fantasy and science fiction writers George R. R. Martin, Ursula Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, and Catherynne M. Valente.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you about these books.
I won’t even get into the writing blogs, forums and podcasts that also distract me from just sitting down and writing.
What books do you think writers should burn?