The Usefulness of Writers' Guides

Wednesday, November 28, 2007
By Del Sandeen

I was recently at a Writers forum and someone asked, "How useful are writers' guides?"

I think this is a common concern for writers, especially those new to the business end of the craft. And it can be confusing because there are so many guides out there, all trying to help you get published.

The thing is, there's conflicting information in them because they're written by people who advise you on what worked best for them. Method A may be perfect for Susie Author, but it might be terrible for Bill Writer. Just as each of us is an individual with different tastes and routines, each of us writes a different way.

I often read that a writer should write every single day, whether she feels like it or not. Then, I read a snippet that a bestselling author only writes when the muse strikes him. So who do you listen to?

When I responded to that forum question, I said that all guides have useful information in them, but it's up to the reader to go carefully through that information and then take what's useful and leave the rest. Otherwise, you'll always wonder if you're doing the right thing. The right thing is what works for you.

Still, writers' guides are extremely helpful sources about what it takes not only to get published, but also what it takes to not give up even after you've received your one hundredth rejection. Writing isn't just about sitting down and writing. It's also about sticking with it, waiting (lots of waiting!), and believing that you'll reach your ultimate goal.

Because there are so many different guides, getting a recommendation for one from someone whose opinion you trust is always a good idea. Many guides are geared toward a certain type of writing, so choose the ones which best suit your niche. For instance, books about writing for children will differ from books about writing romance novels. However, the part about getting published will probably be remarkably similar in both.

I've gotten some great advice from writers' guides, but I've also known what wouldn't work for me. Recognizing what's disposable information for you may take some practice, but trust your instincts and use what makes sense to you and your particular style. Guides can be wonderful sources of knowledge and advice for writers--it's all in how you use them.

Del Sandeen


J.Alpha said...

So true. So true.

And just like every pair of shoes is NOT right for every outfit we wear, NOT every guide book is right for every season of our writing.

Here's a sampling of the books scattered on my desk right now, as I struggle to make every scene functions well in my first novel.

The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer by Sandra Scofield.

Crafting Scenes by Raymond Obstfeld

Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern

Anonymous said...

So true about "NOT every guide book is right for every season." That's why I have several that cover different aspects of writing. Still, one of my faves is Stephen King's On Writing--I think any fan of his will like that book (even non writers) because he doesn't just discuss writing as craft; he talks about his whole life and how he made it to where he is today. Just an interesting backstory.

Thanks for commenting!

Sue said...

I agree. Pulling out what we see as needed advice from separate guides falls under the category of knowledge and balance. If we know what we need in our writing, where we hope to go, and how to get there, then selective reading will follow. Great advice, Del!

Anonymous said...

Can't agree more.

For this season, I'm reading writers' guides that focus on nonfiction, choosing what works for me as I continue to develop my craft.

Great post, Del, thanks for the insight!

Angela Mackintosh said...


I've written about the EXACT same thing so many times! I couldn't agree more. I still remember when I was a total newbie and working on my novel. I bought every single guide out there that received a five-star rating on Amazon, LOL. And, do you know what that did? Propel me into utter confusion!

To the untrained eye, all these guides will pull you in different directions and divert you from what you really want to say. You begin to doubt your own words, your own voice, and that can't be good. But, like you said, after familiarizing yourself with MANY guides, you're able to pick out the very essence of what you need to know at that moment.

When something strikes you as an "Ah-ha!" moment, then you know that you're onto something remarkable. Only that "Ah-ha" moment means something. If the other stuff leaves you doubting, then, I say, don't listen to it. Only in a moment of complete clarity can you actually achieve a moment of complete understanding.

I adore this topic and it never gets old for me. And I always wonder what has worked for other writers who are on the same journey as I am. For me, most often, it's not a printed guide, it's a blog post or article that sparks my attention.

As long as we sift and save, the information we filter can do wonders for us eventually, if not immediately. ;-)



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