I love to read the instructions. (There, I’ve said it.)

I love to read the instructions.  (There, I’ve said it.)

My bookshelves are filled with how to’s–relationships, parenting, drawing, web design, photography, tennis, French Bull dogs–instruction books for everything. I wouldn’t trade a single one of them either; studying a subject is half the fun for me.

Fiction writing (my latest passion) is no exception. The bookshelf is now virtual, but it is filled with great books on the craft. Some have taught me technique, others have provided motivation. All have been extremely helpful in some way.

So if you are a new writer, or just enjoy reading the instructions as much as I do, here are the books that have helped me the most:

Note: I found Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook after writing this article and wanted to add it to the top along with a link to a post about the book: read more

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way To Success – K.M. Weiland Going from key concepts to the overwhelming task of putting together an outline for an entire story was a big jump for me. It was made harder because I tend to look for the perfect process when, sometimes, you need to just dive in and learn as you go. But being who I am, this book really helped me get going. I loved the suggestion to write as much as you know about a particular scene–sort of a brain dump that you can come back to later. I was able to move forward even though I didn’t know every detail yet.

Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story – K. M. Weiland I stayed on the K.M. Weiland train and read her book on structuring your novel. This was invaluable as it helped me mark the milestones I needed in my plot. She also goes into scenes, sequels which were very useful. In general, I found K.M. Weiland’s books very easy to follow and extremely useful.

Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene and Structure – Jack Bickham I hate to revert to the teen-aged girl who is still firmly planted inside my middle-aged body but … OMG! This book was incredible. Granted by the time I read it, I had read tons on the subject and outlined and started writing my novel, so I realize that my ability to comprehend the material was more advanced, but I really had not fully understood the scene and sequel concepts until this book. The author said it in a way that I got it–immediately. It was truly a light bulb moment for me.

Write Your Novel from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers, and Everyone in Between – James Scott Bell This author gave me a name for my approach to writing: I am a plotter through and through. He also wrote a book that helped me more than any other in working out my plot points and overall scene structure. I got the initial idea for my novel over six months ago. The beginning and end of the story were clear to me from day one. The middle, well, that’s a different story altogether. Sure, I’d read a bunch of books on the subject (haha) and I’d sort of worked out a plan, but it still felt like a big sloppy mess in the middle. Not anymore. I found my mirror moment and used his incredible approach to working from the middle. Within a few weeks I had reworked my outline, eliminated a bunch of unnecessary scenes, and finally feel like I have a tight, cohesive story. I’m now writing, writing, writing!

Techniques of the Selling Writer – Dwight V. Swain Writing a novel is not easy. At least not for me. I definitely need a good helping of encouragement and motivation along the way. This book was exactly what I needed. Crazy as it sounds, Dwight convinced me that I needed to write my book even if it is bad! That’s the only way I’ll get better.  It was freeing, and I shot from 5000 completed words to a little over 10,000 in a couple of weeks. And something about the 10,000 mark felt so different than 5,000. Can I do 10,000 eight more times and finish a novel? I think I can. This book has so much truly great information, I really don’t know where to start. I saw it mentioned by a published writer who said if you only buy one book on writing, be sure it is this one. Best suggestion ever.

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4 thoughts on “I love to read the instructions. (There, I’ve said it.)

  1. As someone with a conflicted relationships with the instructions, I really appreciate this list.

    I hate reading the instructions for most things, and typically only do so only grudgingly. I still read them thoroughly for, say, that plumbing project I have to do, just because the downside of having a flooded house is so great. For something I kind-of, sort-of know how to do, like writing, I sometimes plunge in only to discover once I am ankle deep in literary water that I could use some guidance. This is handy set of resources to know about the next time I am wading in words. Thanks for sharing!

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