Writing Discussion

Books on Writing

Can writing be taught? No! Yes!

There’s both art and craft involved with writing. Perhaps the art can’t be taught, but craft can be. Even an artist needs to understand the tools they’re working with, to understand color theory, how to create perspective, what brush is the best for the job.

Books on writing offer tools for our writers toolkit. We may need some now, and different ones later on. If something is not working for you, why not try a new technique?

Here are some books on writing that I’ve found useful:

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler – It takes ideas from the writings of Joseph Campbell on mythological archetypes (the Hero’s Journey) and applies it to story structure and character studies.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass – A no nonsense, passion filled, at times funny, look at what makes a novel a best seller from the perspective of a long time agent. It’s well written and includes plenty of examples.

On Writing by Stephen King – Half memoir, half ruminations on writing. If you want to see what shaped King as a writer, you should read this book. It’s a fascinating read, with some good advice for any writer on the basics of writing, and what makes a good writer.

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell – I haven’t read this one yet, but I’ve heard Bell speak about writing in person, and he’s a very good teacher.

But, there’s no magical formula that will guarantee that a good book. In the end, we all need to figure out what process works best for us. I think the art comes in when you piece things together the way only you can.

Do you think writing be taught?

17 Comments

  1. I think writing can be taught, but I also believe that there has to be some talent to work with, though. The quality of the end product is the real question, because “good” is so subjective, who can judge that? And are they right?

  2. I think writing (as in prose) can be taught to a degree, and I think storytelling (as in plot) can be taught to a degree, and I think those are the 2 most critical elements to a good book.

    But I don’t think passion can be taught, nor perseverance. And those are critical elements to a good writing career.

    1. Definitely passion and perseverance – patience helps too. Hey those are all P words 🙂 Not everyone wants to have a writing career though. I do, and I really need to work on the patience part hehe.

  3. I believe that writing can be “taught”. I like Kristan’s reference to perseverance and passion because I think those are both important. I put quotes on the taught because I believe that it takes more than reading a book or attending a conference to improve one’s art and/or craft. Where the perseverance comes in is to perform the writing & make it good writing by thinking about what is working where are weak points and specifically working to improve those weak points.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I agree with you. Whether by learning by book, and conference, or class, it still requires a lot of self-reflection, trial and error, and personal discovery. Not all of it can be looked up in a book, but some of it can.

      1. Everyone learns differently. I’ve never been someone who learns well from a book. The book/class/conference can introduce a new way of thinking about something but until I get my hands dirty look at the ideas from all sorts of different directions; I haven’t really learned the topic.

        I think of it a lot like cookbooks. I rarely follow the recipe directions; however, they are valuable for introducing concepts/techniques and flavors that I would have never thought to combine.

      2. T.S. Bazelli Author

        That’s a good analogy. I never understood what people got out of cooking shows (vs. cookbooks), until I clued into the idea of flavors and techniques, rather than trying to madly copy down recipes. I’ve always been a cook that likes to throw things together, taste and adjust, rather than strictly following recipes (hence I can’t bake). To each his/her own 🙂

      3. Ahhh, but you know that will make you an excellent bread baker. Except, that taste is usually slightly less important and feel & sight play more of a role. I see feel as more important than sight which makes books & shows difficult for learning the bread aspect 😉

  4. Great list! I’ve been meaning to read books about writing. And stephen king is at the top of my list because he often comes up.

    Oooh, maybe you can do the “5 MUST Read Books On Writing” for your guest post? Just a thought. But I know that many writers are always looking for books to read on writing.

  5. Hmm. I do believe that writing books are helpful — I have myself learnt a lot from quite a few. However, I can’t just learn and forget to apply. The action part still remains with us. Without it, all the knowledge in the world seems incomplete.

    So yes books help. And no because it is not only the books that help 🙂

    -BrownEyed

  6. On the one hand, I do believe that the technical skills of writing can be taught – subject-verb agreement, sentence structure, all of that is part of writing. And many other related skills can be learned, like story-craft, plotting, and characterization.

    But there’s a dichotomy between presenting these skills in a book and the actual learning of these skills. It’s not impossible to overcome that chasm, but I think the real learning comes in doing it, and that’s two-fold: actually writing and practicing these skills and reading the fiction of others (as opposed to books about writing). Where books on writing play a role, I think, is in calling our attention to the existence of certain skills and to their use by published authors. Inasmuch as reading a book on writing enables me to identify the skill in practice, and to be aware of my own strength or weakness in it as well as the strengths and weaknesses of others, I think it can be categorized as a helpful book.

    But, ultimately, that’s not a substitute for practice. Nor, for the passion alluded to elsewhere.

    Finally, however, there is an element to writing that I think is harder to teach – because it’s organic. I won’t say that it’s natural “talent” (I’m still learning about natural talent and how strongly I think it affects a person’s skills, but I’m not convinced yet that “talent” provides an overriding advantage nor lack of it an insurrmountable barrier; which is fine for me to say, given that I supposedly possess some natural talent for writing, but that’s neither here nor there). But there’s something in the process and in the product – some style and voice and character of the writer – that is difficult to grasp and therefore difficult to transmit via the standard learning process or to present in a book. That’s something that can really only be achieved through lots and lots of practice and self-reflection. That’s the part of this whole thing that’s art.

      1. T.S. Bazelli Author

        You’re welcome! Yes there’s definitely more to learning than just reading in books and what has learned has to be applied outside of the ‘classroom’.

        Personally I think that talent is overrated. It’s an advantage, but not the only thing that contributes to success in any field. Of course I say that because I was talentless hack at one point (not when it comes to writing, but school) so I honestly believe that hard work plays a huge role.

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