‘How to ……’ books

Recognise this look?  Do you have a shelf like this?   I expect you’ll make a couple of assumptions about me when I tell you this is my collection of ‘writing and inspiration’ books.

If the word ‘procrastination’ came to mind, you’d not be far wrong.

I was recently part of a discussion in which various writers commented on their favourite  books about writing and more generally those on how to harness inspiration.  Everyone had something to say.

Opinions were sharply divided between those who liked, say, Dorothea Brande’s ‘Becoming a Writer’ , and those, like me, who thought they must have read her book because they have it on their shelves, but otherwise have little recollection of its contents.

Everyone agreed that Julia Cameron had some interesting things to say in ‘The Artist’s Way’.  We can all use the jargon of artists dates, morning pages and synchronicity, although few would admit to following the regime consistently, even while the book remained as yet unfinished.

Many who have never read a Stephen King novel, or seen a film based in his work other than the ‘Shawshank Redemption’, agreed that his ‘On Writing’ was both practical and inspirational.  And most had an opinion on Natalie Golberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones’, ‘showing up at the page and keeping the hand moving’.

I have all of these and more as you can see.  It’s quite a collection ranging from books I’ve been required to buy for courses, like Christopher Vogler’s ‘The Writer’s Journey’, Roland Barthes ‘Image Music Text’ and ‘The Way to Write’ by John Fairfax and John Moat, to those I’ve heard people describe with exaggerated hyperbole, as ‘bibles’, like Robert McKee’s ‘Story’.

They range from the ‘inspirational’ end of the canon to the downright practical of  Carol Blake’s ‘From Pitch to Publication’.

Most interestingly, the quality of the writing in the volumes themselves varies enormously from the sleek prose of David Lodge’s ‘The Art of Fiction’, to the downright poor, in something like Syd Field’s ‘The Screenwriters Workbook’.

So when someone mentioned Twyla Tharp’s ‘The Creative Habit’ , and I realised I’d not heard of it before, I waited until a couple more people had recommended it, and then I ordered it.

I should have known, really, shouldn’t I?  I’ve read enough of these things already.

Things only get created when you put yourself in the place both mentally and physically to start; and once you’re there, get on with it.  All the rest is just fuss and nonsense and displacement activity.

And reading daft books like that (OK so I’ve only scanned the first couple of chapters, but I absolutely draw the line at reading of the benefits of eating boiled egg whites) is the surest sign of any that the procrastination has simply got to stop.

Leave a comment


  1. Rowena,

    I loathe these things. Most of them start with a lengthy introduction and sales pitch. Then page after page of endless drivel.

    Q.How did Twyla Tharp get published? A. Because her name sold it, GAH!

    The Grammar Devotional, by Mignon Fogarty is well put together, and Holly Lisle gives out advice that rings to my ear.

    If you want to write with satisfaction, then just learn the rules of grammar, plot and narrative go for it. Write with your own voice. Don’t write _anything_ that doesn’t drive the narrative!

    If you want to make money, copy what someone else successful has done. Even major authors like Cornwell admit to massive culling of plot arcs from writers now out of copyright.

    One day, the Vampire and Arab Terrorist will become unfashionable.

    I hope.

    brendan (writer of romance stories with cyborgs)


    • LOL Brendan! You did what everyone always does – slag off the category of books, and then suggest a couple to add to the list!

      On the whole I prefer the grammar books and the ones like David Lodge who look at the ideas behind the structure of fiction rather than the devices themselves. Very occasionally the ‘creative’ ones are helpful trick yourself into an imaginative spurt.


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