Friday Fun — Should writers read books about writing?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: A recent post on Writer Unboxed asked the question, “Should You Read About Writing?” It’s an interesting topic for discussion, so we thought we’d pose the question here. Do you read books about the craft of writing? What kinds? How many? What sorts of things do you hope to learn? Do you think reading these books has helped or hindered your development as a writer?

P.S. – If you’re interested to know which writing books we’ve previously touted as our faves, visit this Friday Fun post from the archives on writing books that make a difference.


headshot_jw_thumbnailwriting booksJamie Wallace: Guilty. I think. Here’s the thing, I definitly BUY books about writing, but I don’t always actually READ them. Apart from the favorites I mentioned in the post noted above, most of my Writing Books Collection consists of partially-read or never-read books that seemed like a good idea/lifesaver/font of wisdom … at the time. I don’t have any particular prejudice against these books, nor do I believe they contain the secret formula for success. As the author of the Writer Unboxed post pointed out, if reading books about writing was all it took to be a great writer … well, you get the idea.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I love reading books about writing. I love reading magazines about writing (wasn’t that last week’s question?) My favorites are the ones like Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones, the ones that just say, “get your butt in the chair and write!” But I also enjoy books on craft and process, and even grammar books. I love grammar books: Sin and Syntax and everyone’s old favorite, The Elements of Style. Also, I love a gem I found in the UConn bookstore when my stepson was there: A Troubleshooting Guide for Writers: Strategies and Process. I don’t read writing books but I usually take one or two of them when I go on vacation.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin: First of all, I don’t think it’s helpful to “should all over yourself.” I do, however, read writing books when I need the inspiration such books offer. I’ve reviewed a few on this blog: Bird by Bird, Writing to Change the World, Unless it Moves the Human Heart. I’ve also enjoyed Stephen King’s On Writing, John McPhee’s essays about craft that have been running in The New Yorker lately, and Michel de Montaigne’s Essays (not strictly about writing, but inspirational). My caveat: the books on writing have to be well written themselves.

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: Stephen King’s On Writing and Annie Lamont’s Bird by Bird are both favorites of mine. For mystery writing, The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, Hallie Ephron’s Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, and Chris Roerdon’s Don’t Murder Your Mystery are all great. I don’t read them as much now (though I will be looking at the editing chapters again soon), but I found them very, very helpful. Just remember that there isn’t a right way to write. There’s your way.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: This one is easy, the answer is YES. Absolutely. And not only should you be reading books (and magazines) on the craft of writing but you should also be applying what you learn to what you read (which will eventually allow you to apply it to what you write.) Honestly, because of my craft reading, I can no longer read a book without seeing how it was constructed. I can’t unsee what I’ve seen.

Not only should you read books about writing, but you should find a co-writer confidant with whom you can discuss what you’ve discovered. My writing has gotten so much stronger because I have a friend who loves to dissect writing as much as I do and we share ideas and articles with each other.

Some of my favorite resources? Anything Larry Brooks writes ( He’s currently offering a free ebook that breaks down his last published novel. Invaluable information on the mechanics of story construction. He also write Story Engineering and Story Physics which are two of my writing bibles.

I also like Blueprint your Best Seller – it’s a very mechanical book that describes exactly how to design a story and the technical writer in me loves the approach.

And of course the monthly  writing magazines, I still pick up a tip or two from each issue.

Susan Nye:
At this point, I’m so busy writing, reading fiction and memoir and living that I don’t have time to read about writing. Or at least, I don’t make time to read about writing. Perhaps it’s the rebel in me, if it’s a should – it’s not for me.

8 thoughts on “Friday Fun — Should writers read books about writing?

  1. I think it’s essential; how do you learn to write well without the right tools? I’ve learned a lot from blogs and conferences, but when I need help on a particular angle of writing, I need a more substantial guide. Different types of writing books work depending on where you are in the process. I view mine more as references. If I don’t finish a writing book cover to cover, it doesn’t mean I haven’t gleaned good information.

    A published author in romance came to my RWA group this year and admitted her workshop would need to be altered because she no longer found some of her own strategies helpful. She’d joined an online writing course which she said opened her eyes to new outline and drafting possibilities. This author had many published books, but she is still learning and still open to new ideas on craft. I think that’s wise, to not limit yourself by not seeing what else is out there. You never know what will work for you.

  2. Writing is a bit like life, you can read all about it, how others live – but only you can live it in your own unique way. Yes, collect some tips along the way, but to develop as a writer – simply write; and as a person, simply live.

  3. Two that I have in my library are Writing Fiction (I think that’s the title, not sure of the edition) Janet Burroway and The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. They are chock full of great stuff, and Burroway offers story examples of what she’s teaching. Both offer some great exercises too.

    Since I consider myself an amateur/student of fiction, any advice helps. But it can sometimes get in the way of actually writing. So I’m currently trying to practice with some pastiche writing on my blog in order to get practice from a different angle. Sometimes I need to stop “studying” and just write. That’s my biggest problem, getting words on the page instead of thinking about them.

  4. Reblogged this on Shewrite63 and commented:
    Thanks to NHWN for this question.

    I have a nice assortment of books about writing but haven’t read them all and some of them not even cover to cover – just the parts that matter like lay, lie, laid. Some of the books were given to me by friends in my local writing group. Wait a minute… Were they were trying to tell me something?

    Thanks again,


  5. I have Stephen King’s book, Ann Lamott’s book (Bird by Bird), Natalie Goldberg’s (Writing Down the Bones) and a few others: The Courage to Write, by Ralph Keys, The Elements of Storytelling, by Peter Rubie and 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, by Jane Smiley on my shelf that pertain to writing. I tend to go in spurts. I have read each cover to cover, but frequently revisit parts of each when I need inspiration or ideas or clarification. I have read several articles related to writing, which I tend to bookmark on my computer but rarely go back to visit. I think probably because I am a visual person and I can’t “see” these sources every time I start the computer. Since I am currently working on short stories, I am in search of a good reference for this type of writing. I would appreciate any recommendations. Also a somewhat related book on my shelf is Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose.

  6. I always have a fiction novel and a book on writing and maybe a non fiction on the go. I find reading about writing skills is invaluable to me as a writer. It helps so much with consolidating what I do well and rethinking what I don’t

  7. Pingback: Don’t Forget to Read About Writing | Live to Write - Write to Live

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