Something I love to do is research and learn about new things. If I hear something interesting mentioned on the radio, a podcast, or in an article, I’m inclined to want to find out more about it, even if it means buying and reading a book about it. Knowledge is an invaluable tool that can help you throughout your life, your interactions with people, and even in your writing.
Books about writing. I have them. You have them. Most people who write have books written by others about writing. But what are you doing when you’re reading about writing? You’re NOT writing. Ah, there’s the problem.
Look, books that impart wisdom about the creative process, give you inspirational advice about writing, and even help you structure your own work are great resources for any writer to use. The problem can be that a lot of books about writing implement RULES about writing that can cause more harm than good, especially to new writers.
Writing isn’t like a sport, driving a car, or a board game. There are no hard and fast rules that you need to know in order to get started. You know instinctively through years of reading other authors’ works, from watching TV shows, movies, and documentaries what the basic structure of a story is: beginning, middle, and end.
You have a story inside you. Stuck in your head. You want to get it out on the page. You reach for a book about writing and are inundated with rules about what you should and shouldn’t do. Detailed questions are brought up about story, setting, character, theme, subtext, and genre that you never even thought of. And you freeze. Suddenly writing your story seems like an insurmountable task like climbing Everest or watching all ten seasons of Friends in one sitting.
Put the book down and step away! Books about writing, while good to have on hand, can result in creative paralysis (I know, it’s happened to me before). So, before you pick up a book about writing, consider this: think of it as a guide rather than an instruction manual. You know your story, you know your characters, and you know the ins and outs of your narrative. Write those down first. Then, if you find yourself stuck on how to move the middle of the story along or how to integrate subtext into a chapter or scene, you can go to the book and use it as a reference guide.
Even books about formatting your manuscript, screenplay, play, or TV script should only be referenced once a draft is completed. There’s no sense in obsessing over this while working on your story.
So, the next time you think about picking up that book about writing, consider writing your story instead. In the end it will be a more productive use of your creative time, and you’ll finally free your mind-imprisoned story onto the page where it belongs.