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I was around fifteen or sixteen when I picked up my first book about writing fiction. Of course, I had been writing stories long before that, from round robin tales to pass away a boring class to a surprisingly dark (for a 13-year-old) dystopian novel. The first book I read was one called Building Better Plots. I still have it.

The book itself outline many of the “common plots” and suggested using the note card method to plot. It was fascinating. I had heard about theme and motifs and those sorts of things. But there were new words in this book like “inciting incident” and “pacing,” things I had never considered.

Before reading this book on plotting, I never really outlined much. But I became a firm plotter afterwards. I was convinced not having a solid plot was why I never seemed to finish any of the novels I wanted to write. This was probably true. Also it might have simply been being sixteen. In any case, I did finish my first draft the next year with the help of my new found knowledge.

Since reading that book about plot, I’ve read probably a dozen other books on writing. Some give the same advice. Some give conflicting advice. Some made me feel like a fail. Others reminded me that I was not alone.

I have three I would refer to other writers, depending on where you are in writing. The first, a lovely book about writing shitty first drafts, is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, that I would recommend to writers first starting out. For the writer with a newly finished rough draft, there’s a super handy book called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. It points out how to polish that rough draft and avoid the newbie mistakes. For the writer who has one or two finished novels under her belt, Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel, which aims to pin down how to create that X-factor of a breakout novel. Of course, there are other good book for writers out there. But not every book is a fit for every writer.

If you write, have you read any books on writing? Which ones stay with you? Which ones would you chunk?

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