A good book on writing needs to do a couple of things.
First, and most books get this right, is to instruct. It should teach you something about the craft of writing. It should tell you things you didn’t know before, or make the invisible visible.
Elements of Style is a great old stand-by of this type, and probably one of the first writing books you read. ‘Omit needless words’ still rings in my head every time I try to edit something.
The second, and this is harder, is inspire, to actually make you want to write.
I always looked at Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury as a shining example of inspiration. It’s really, really hard to read it and not want to write with gusto. It’s less successful in instruction, but that’s not what he’s going for, really. Ray Bradbury let all his subconscious do the work; we mortals need to know how to build houses before we burn them down.
The book Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life by Nick Mamatas is one of the few that does a good job of both. It’s an excellent book, well worth the time of any writer interested in writing things so other people will read them. Continue reading