Rule #1: What Books Do You Read?

I scrolled by this on Instagram the other day:

[From Instagram.]

I see a lot of that sort of thing on Insta and other social media. I thought I would address that post here on my blog. (I don’t mean for this to come across as sarcasm… although maybe it is just a little bit in a friendly way. But is everything in life now, uh, “a journey?” LOL!) These books have been probably the most influential to me on my personal writing “creative journey”:

Pride and Prejudice
The Last of the Mohicans
The American
The Winds of War
Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful

I read all of those novels from my teens into my early twenties.

[From my Instagram Stories, photo by me, September 16, 2020.]

I read War and Peace for the first time in my mid-twenties.

None of those six are “perfect” novels because THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFECT NOVEL. What they did was leave an indelible impression on me that I know has decades later come greatly to influence what and how I write. There are also numerous other books both fiction and non-fiction (especially biographies) that have made their marks too and I cannot even begin to list them all here.

Wait a minute? Hold it? None of those are “writing manuals?”

Uh, in fact, they are THE BEST WRITING “MANUALS.”

[Photo by me, September 2020.]

The “instructional” book perhaps most worth reading is Stephen’s King’s On Writing. It has a strength none of his competition can match: he is one of the most wildly successful authors of the last half century. Personally I am not a fan of King’s books mostly because his subject matter does not usually interest me; but his authoring accomplishments are undeniable.

On Writing has also been criticized by some as often “pedestrian” in its advice. None of such critics are naturally as successful as writers themselves, of course, and that is telling in its way too. Beyond his autobiographical parts one reviewer cuts to the heart of it: “King cannot replicate a formula for his success so he does the next best thing by describing his work habits and environment urging that consistency in those areas can be conducive to good writing.”

I stay closer to home. I attempt to remember what I witnessed and was told directly by my (now late) uncle, who was a crime novelist published by major U.S. and foreign publishers from the 1980s until the early 2000s. I try always to recall and follow his example.

[Photo by me, September 2020.]

There is always going to be an “advice” book you never heard of that someone suggests. And, yes, some may have useful insights about this or that. But to an avid reader such “instructional” books’ helpfulness are likely only to be “marginal” (no pun intended) at best – especially when measured against the amount of money you are likely to find yourself throwing at them (and thus giving their own authors sales).

Even if you took a grammar class in university, if you have never read a well-regarded fiction book cover to cover for enjoyment and read only an “instructional” book on “how to write,” if you try to write fiction from that “experience base” chances are what you write will be not very good reading to say the least.

On the other hand if you have done merely a grammar course in university amidst all of your other studies, and you have been a lifetime (so far) reader especially of a particular genre in which you want now to write your own books, you are probably MORE than well-equipped enough to write such books.

Have a good weekend, wherever you are. 🙂

5 thoughts on “Rule #1: What Books Do You Read?

  1. Good piece. Winds if War and The Last of the Mohicans are two of my favorite novels too. Add to those Huck Finn and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (I know, but I liked it when I was ten), Uris’ Trinity and McCarry’s Tears of Autumn, and there you have my reader’s base. In addition to influencing my humble writing, they influenced my life. To me, writing a novel is like putting together an IKEA wardrobe. No instruction pamphlet is good enough, and cursing is to be expected. 😉

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    1. Ha! Yes, I am a nightmare with self-assembly furniture. Writing is much the same. I have lost try of the various unique ways I have managed to berate myself as I write. 😁 Oh, and I’ve read Winds is apparently going to be remade as a new miniseries. Frankly I don’t know how anyone can best Robert Mitchum.🤔😄


      1. Mitchum cannot be bested. I’d like to see them include War and Remembrance in the mini series. Like most sequels, the writing did not carry the same impact, but the substance was worthwhile. And few ever mention The Hope and The Glory, but I loved them too.

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