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FAQ #1b. Do you know of any good books about writing that I should read?

I don't recommend that you spend too much time reading books about how to write a book. As Somerset Maugham said when addressing a friend's class on English literature, "There are three rules for the writing of a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." I tend to agree with him. And yet, although no one's unlocked the secret as to what makes one novel better than another, there are some things you can do to become a better writer:

Make sure you understand and have mastered the language. This includes using correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure and syntax. You might find yourself breaking some of these rules when you sit down to write your novel, but you need to know and understand the rules before you go and start breaking them.

Read a lot. Reading the kinds of books you enjoy and find useful will help you write the kinds of books other people will enjoy and find useful.

Read the biographies and autobiographies of writers you've admired. To me, there's nothing more inspiring than to learn about the challenges faced by other writers during their lifetimes and how they overcame them.

Okay, I lied. There are two books on writing I'd recommend – just don't give every rule or instruction or tip in these books equal weight. Different things work for different writers. You have to do what works best for you and for your book. There are tons of books out there about writing. I suggest a trip to your local library or bookstore, where you can browse through all the titles in the Writing/Publishing section, then choose one or two of the books that appeal to you and your writing style. The two that I happen to like a lot are:

"Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" by Anne Lamott (Pantheon)

"Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers" by Lawrence Block (Quill)

But, as I said, don't spend too much of your time reading how-to books. Although it's helpful to have a couple of references on writing, the best way to learn to write is to just sit down and do it. The more you write, the better you'll get.

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