When is enough, enough?
Some writers argue that you don’t need how-to books, just practicing writing. Yet, many writers write beautifully but are incapable of producing a publishable novel, while mediocre writers sometimes sprout best-sellers . Some great lirerary writers seem to lack knowledge of essential story craft techniques.
while writing is an art, the dramatic form is a technical art. A technical art implies learning the techniques first.
@ what argues in Are 'how-to write fiction' books full of it?
Buying and (maybe) reading how-to-write books is a symptom of procrastination. Wannabe writers have shelves of them. And every time they feel afraid of starting to write and making mistakes, they go and buy another one (or post questions on forums such as this one), thinking that before they can begin their masterwork, they need the secret knowledge that all writers share and that will enlighten them and turn them into a writer. But they are mistaken. There is no secret to writing, just as there is no secret to walking or speaking, only that
you have to do it until it becomes second nature. And that is all the truth there is to it. You learn writing by writing. And by making mistakes.
and in Pirating books, taboo?
reading how-to books can be a sign of procrastination and an obstacle to actually writing your book. Recommending a download (and possible reading) of hundreds of books seems counterproductive to me.
@John Smithers makes a similar point in What are some online guides for starting writers?
If you read about starting writing, you are reading, not writing. Because you are still not writing, you'll decide you should read more about it, and well, you are still reading. There is interesting stuff out there to improve your writing, but that means you have to start. Grab your pen/keyboard and start. Just write. If you have filled your first three pages with "I do not know what to write" it will become boring and you will write something meaningful.
I do to some extent agree with @what that procrastination and going overboard are real dangers, yet some learning seems required. Some writers seem clueless about structure, tension, plot, dynamics, or climax.
For a “pantser” who writes junk and rewrites, rewrites, rewrites, and reformat it later into a coherent story whose final draft bears no resemblance whatsoever with the initial draft, writing as a technical occupation may seem anathema.
Yet, for “plotters” lacking even one tool or technical advice before finishing the story can be counterproductive and greatly damaging.
On one hand, yes most writing books say the same things in different ways; on the other there is often a snippet of information that is original and enlightening in each book.
Another arguments for reading as many how-to books is also that while the same info may be paraphrased, a different version can bring sudden clarity to a nebulously vague concept and click everything into place.
Also, being a writer is a profession, for most specialized profession going to college to get a degree is needed. Sure most classes are useless and redundant, but there is some need of formal education.
Maybe writing can not be taught, but techniques and style certainly can.
So, I am a believer in reading as many how to books as you can get your hands on. Yet, to validate @what point, I am also a procrastinator who much prefer developing stories ideas, structured outlines, and detailed scenes in sumary form rather than writing books.
So, is there a good balance between learning and doing, dreamer and writer, procrastinator and author?
I understand this may be subjective, but is there evidence of an optimal length of time or volume of books, as in no more than 6 months or less than 30 writing books.
for book choices, i just "found" this SE Q/A What are good reads about writing?
the debate continues In Answers that are off-topic @what resates a succinct version off his answer here about writing books:
I used to believe in how-to books, but have found that they don't work for beginners. That is both my personal experience and what I gleaned from reading what other, professional writers wrote or said about their career. I am absolutely convinced that you can only learn writing by writing a lot, and that trying to learn writing from books is in fact detrimental to your goal of mastering writing. You have read many fiction books (I guess), so you know what a book must be like, and all you need to do is try to write such a book.
here is a longish comment
What you say about writing books is full of wisdom, yet i don’t feel it is the whole of it. Drawing books are mostly for people who don’t know how to draw; they are stylized, proportionated, ideal versions of human beings. They are there to be a crutch supplemented by live drawings and observation.
Writings books are not the same, mostly they are not a bunch of do it like that, "paint by number", formulaic types. They give suggestions, concepts, methods, and then your own writing style and preferences determines what you write.
Yes, you are right that many people trying to make a quick buck try to copy, or fill in structures, i saw that a lot with movie scripts, but i don’t think it is the case for genuine wanabe authors.
About just learning by writing, i can’t agree. When i was a teen i wrote a lot of prose and poetry and started several novels. I was an avid reader, and had already read hundreds of books. These writings never became anything because i had no clue on how to dramatize, how to build tension, how to build characters, how to work on dialogues…..
Later in college i meet a lot of literary types and their writings never amounted to anything either, because they were clueless about craft and though you could sprout a novel from the sheer brilliance of your writings. Worse, some tried to emulate classical styles that they loved and read about, with disastrous effects.
Now that i am more mature, i am humble enough to admit i don’t know what makes a book tick, so i believe in learning all you can about technique.
here the issue is not about learning how to write but about crafting a good novel. To craft an entrancing narrative dream you need to meticulously plan, tap here and there, chisel this facet, polish that, to make a good novel emerge from your imagination. Yes, some great writers can do without, but that’s because they have an intuitive grasp of the same techniques.