Monday, June 30, 2008

“Techniques of the Selling Writer” - a review

Recently someone posted on one of my email groups and mentioned “Techniques of the Selling Writer” by Dwight V. Swain. There were immediate responses. Evidently a lot of people out there have read this book. My first reaction was wow – I should get a copy; I’ll check it out on Amazon.

I felt pretty foolish when Amazon came back and informed me that I purchased this item on November 16, 2006. I’d like to say I had a senior moment but this is more like a year and a half. I’ll blame it on cubicle brain atrophy. Thank you Amazon for not letting me buy a book I already have.

I can’t be the only reader who does this. You see a book you want, you buy it intending to read it in the near future. It goes on the TBR pile - to be read. Then you buy another book, and another. Soon they’re piled high and you have no idea what you have. Solution - buy your books from Amazon – it remembers everything.

Sure enough I found Swain’s book buried under umpteen others. I started going through it and I’m pretty annoyed with myself for forgetting I had it. It’s a classic. There are forty reviews on Amazon and thirty-two of them give the book 5 stars. Seven give it four stars. One gives it three stars.

I’d give it six if I could. I knew I had a keeper when I finished the first chapter. Here’s Swain on writing exercises:

“Most potentially successful writers have little patience with such. They’re too eager to get on with their own stories; too intoxicated with their own euphoria; too excited over their ideas. Exercises excite no one.”

Right-on! I’ve read many books on writing. Never read that before. Most how-tos include exercises. I tried them. I hated them. I thought it was just me. Even when I started drafting I had no use for practice, I wanted a real job to work on. But I felt guilty that I was too impatient. Can I ever be a good writer if I don’t want to do exercises? Evidently the answer is yes. Now I feel vindicated.

I went on to chapter two – “The Words You Write.” I found myself highlighting lines on every page.
“Your two key tools are nouns and verbs.”
“The singular of a noun is almost always stronger than the plural.” Gems on every page. I learned a lot. Did I already know some of this? Sure. But it was explained in a clear and consistent manner that drove it home.

Chapter three – Plain facts About Feelings
Chapter four – Conflict And How To Build It
Chapter five – Fiction Strategy
Chapter six – Beginning, Middle, End

There are ten chapters in all and an appendix on “Preparing your Manuscript” and “Further Reading.”

This book was first published in 1965. There’s a reason it still remains a recommended read by so many. Without a doubt it’s one of the best books on crafting genre fiction. You’ll refer back to it time after time. I’ve added it to my list in the sidebar.

Techniques of the Selling Writer