Books about writing

This week I’ve been to a real library (in the pouring rain – there’s dedication for you) and got out a couple of books I thought I’d mention. The first one I’ve read before, and may even have mentioned but as I remember it being pretty useful, I’ll mention it again. It’s by Janet Laurence and is called Writing Crime Fiction. Yes, the detective novel’s still in progress, thanks for asking – it currently stands at a little over 9000 words (slightly below yesterday’s target, and I haven’t written any today yet since I’ve mostly been out of the house). I read Janet Laurence’s book a little over a year ago (and judging by the date stamps, no-one’s had it out since then, which is a shame) when the idea of writing crime was still a scary distant aspiration. Now I’ve written a crime story I’m quite proud of, and I’ve started on a novel, so I figured it was a good time to refresh my memory. The book is full of writing exercises, general writing topics like dialogue, third vs first person narratives etc, but naturally there are vast amounts of crime-specific advice. From hooks and pacing to notes on poison, it packs a lot into 180-odd pages and is well worth reading at least once if you’re interested in writing crime fiction. It may even be of interest if you’re a keen reader of crime, and are the sort that likes to get glimpses behind the scenes.

The other book is quite different, though still related to creative writing. It’s called Write for your Lives, and is by a cognitive behavioural therapist (I think) called Joseph Sestito who follows Tibetan Buddhism and has written a guide to becoming a more liberated and less self-critical writer, free from writer’s block. Bearing in mind I’m a sceptical atheist, I might not read the whole thing, but having read the introductory chapter it’s already given me something to think about, which I’ll share here so you can think about it too. As far as I can tell from the introduction, he seems to be suggesting that writer’s block stems from self-absorption. You focus on your performance, the goal being to write something that gains praise or gets published, or earns you money – so you freeze up (like stagefright). If instead you focus on whether the piece of writing will be entertaining or useful to a potential reader, and work on making it the best it can be for selfless purposes, it might come easier. I’m not saying I agree, and these things often depend largely on your personality, but I can see how the second way would be more like writing for fun whereas the first way has aspects of stressful exams (and I know all about going blank under exam conditions). Why are you writing, or why did you start writing in the first place? Probably because it’s something you enjoy doing (it may be because it’s a compulsion, but I’ll put that in the enjoyment category in the same way that scratching a persistent itch might bring pleasure/relief). Wouldn’t it be better all round if you could keep it that way?

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