How to Write: best how-to in recent years

Regular visitors will remember a recent post about how to books. Well, here’s another that aspiring authors need to add to their collection, and if money’s tight, buy this one before all others (except perhaps Stephen King’s On Writing). Quite simply: it’s fantastic, and I wish it had been around before I wrote BloodMining; there might have been fewer drafts.

So here’s my review:

For anyone who writes with a view to getting published Harry Bingham’s How To Write is a must-have guide.

As you’d expect from a successful author and founder of the Writers’ Workshop and editorial consultancy, and its associated community, it is an absolute joy to read. Informative, practical, honest and often very funny indeed. Dry this book ain’t. On MAs and MFAs: ‘If you want a certificate to decorate your wall, then commission something grand from your local printer. Make yourself a Knight Commander of the Holy Roman Empire, for all I care…’ Harry Bingham isn’t saying that MAs are a waste of time, rather that the qualification in itself is, in publishing terms, an irrelevance.

It’s clear from the outset that this book is for writers who want their novel, or narrative non-fiction, to sell. Publishing is an industry, and the market rules. ‘We’re seeking to learn the delicate art of pleasing others.’ Bingham then takes you through the building blocks of fiction: planning, prose style, character, story and so forth, ending with editing and seeking feedback. Each section is subdivided into key areas with some inventive and memorable subheadings (A Snakeskin Skirt and a Mini Tank Top is one of my favourites), and a checklist style summary at the end. Advice is easy to follow – with the most common pitfalls outlined clearly – using examples from a wide range of works: Bridget Jones’s Diary to Eat, Pray, Love and classics like Pride and Prejudice.

There’s so much solid advice here that it’s difficult to choose just a few examples for review, but I’ll finish with this: Bingham counsels aspiring authors to know their market; to read broadly and, most crucially, to read ‘more wisely, more commercially’. Start here. Buy, read, and re-read How to Write; it’s brilliant.

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