Books for the Old New Writer

When I was starting out as a writer, I was hungry for an info on how to  do it. There were a bunch of books, usually expensive hardcovers from Writer’s Digest, memoirs and others assorted pieces. You could find them easy enough in libraries, and they’d fill the bottom shelf of the “On Writing” shelves of a book store. I’d pay attention to interviews with writers on shows like Prisoners of Gravity, or an expose on Stephen King, etc, as well as in bios of writers I liked. Took a little bit of hustle to find them without spending a lot of dough. All before the web was full of things.

Now, there’s so much advice and information online from  successful, moderately successful, and not really successful authors to do with writing, selling, having a career, dealing with the market, being a kindle sensation, how to find inspiration, how to deal with writers block, increasing productivity, writing prompts, scene construction and deconstruction, writing in genres, writing to market . . . it’s staggering. I wouldn’t say it was a famine before, but it’s a gluttony feast now. I, myself, had added to the meal with articles (published and paid for, as well as free here on Ridlerville). And almost all of it focused on “new” or “young” writers.

But for the folks who have put in ten plus years, there’s less value in this stuff. The same tropes are used (Heinlein’s rules, Ray Bradbury’s advice, John Gardner’s quips) in different iterations. Which is fine, but you do start to value those books on craft or profession that speak to your own concerns as opposed to the ones of yesteryear, or that have novel aspects that challenge you.

I’d stamp Nick Mamatas’s STARVE BETTER and Lance Olsen’s THE ARCHITECTURES OF POSSIBILITY in this latter group. Each offered different advice on craft and career than you get from your usual sources. They challenge some established norms. They call for a change and innovation and improvement rather than more market driven advice (though there is career management advice, too, but less soapbox thumping). And both gave me pause to reconsider the how and why of writing.

They also don’t sell certainties as much as the regular books and advice do. Sure, most writing advice is armed with caveats about the difficulties of the market, the craft, and how unfair much of the writing life, but most writers zip by them and hone in on the advice that they think applies to achieving dreams and goals and milestones and whatever in record time.  I worry sometimes that since writing is a hard profession, regardless of stature in the field, that the “selling the means to your dreams” thread in a lot of advice gets too close to snake oil.

Anyway, both Mamatas and Olsen’s book are as far as snake oil as you’ll find in the writing book world. So if you’d like some fun doses of reality from less common perspectives, I’d say throw ’em some bones. I found them really useful.




About ridlerville

Jason S. Ridler is a historian, writer, and improv actor. He is the author of A TRIUMPH FOR SAKURA, BLOOD AND SAWDUST, the Spar Battersea thrillers and has published over sixty stories in such magazines and anthologies as The Big Click, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Out of the Gutter, and more. He also writes the column FXXK WRITING! for Flash Fiction Online. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. He lives in Richmond, CA. Visit him on Facebook at
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