Writing Manuals

Last year I joined both the Sisters in Crime and the subset group the Guppies- the Great Unpublished.  At first I was completely overwhelmed.  There was so much information flooding into my inbox that I couldn’t keep up.  After a few weeks of just deleting every email in desperation- without reading a single line- I finally managed to get on top of the wave.  I still get behind occasionally, but for the most part I’ve learned how to sieve for the useful stuff.

During my reading of the various conversations that come up in the SinC and Gup emails, I’ve noticed at a lot of advice revolves around which writing manuals to buy.  That big picture up there is one of the most popular.

I recently went into a used bookstore unattended (Kona Bay Books, the only bookstore in town) and, on a whim, picked up a writing manual called Line by Line.  Mind you, I already own several that I’ve kept since I was in high school, but you just can’t let a bibliophile loose in a bookstore and not expect her to buy something.  After maybe half an hour I came home with an armload of reading material, all of which I’ve blasted through.

All except one.

Line by Line has forcefully reminded me that I can’t read manuals.  I just can’t do it.  They’re so dry and boring, even when the author makes a concerted effort to inject humor and life into the subject matter.  Something in me rebels against reading chapter after chapter of where adverbs go and which prepositions are attached to what in a sentence.  My eye, to paraphrase Terry Pratchett’s Moist von Lipwig, skips whole paragraphs in self-defense.

The weird thing is that I seem to be the only one.  In my emails from fellow SinCers everyone has a favorite manual, or two, or three, and they swear by them.  “You should read So-and-so’s Edit yourself- it really revolutionized my writing style,” is a common statement.  I go glassy-eyed just thinking about it.

If you’re like me and shun and fear technical manuals, I have a suggestion: writing memoirs.

I love them.  I can’t get enough of this…. genre?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think Stephen King’s On Writing or Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.  While they don’t have as much to say on the proper placement of a comma they do cover things like how to put together an outline and what sort of writing rules they follow.  Reading these books (and the surprising collection I hadn’t realized I had built up until today) gives a sort of large frame to the writing process, not to mention the different approaches can be really eye-opening.

My current recommendation is Terry Brooks’ Sometimes the Magic Works, mostly because it’s what I’m currently reading myself.  Did you know he once met George Lucas?  And has 10 writing rules?  And makes some good points about creating an outline for your manuscript, which I’ve never done before but might try now.

Okay, now I want to hear from someone else.  Is the reason I can’t read manuals because I haven’t met the right one?  Which ones do you recommend?  If you know a particularly brilliant writing memoir, share it in the comments!

P.S.  Due to guests and laziness, my manuscript holds steady at 50,032 words.

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