What’s the Big Idea?

falling-bookI was scratching my head yesterday at the astronomical number of new books on writing on the market today–most by people I’ve never heard of before with slim writing resumes and credentials.  If you take the time to examine enough of these, you quickly discover that they say nothing new; they all cover essentially the same ground and say the same yadda yadda. No big surprise there because the elements of a good story or work of non-fiction are universally acknowledged, as old as humankind and writing, and absolutely old hat to seasoned writers.

(Pulling off a masterpiece, actually writing one, nevertheless, never has been easy and never will be. I mean, I know how a bird flies.  It flaps its wings!  Does that mean I can fly? Uh, no. Not naturally, anyway.)

At any rate, these breathless books promising to turn the reader into not only a whiz-bang writer, but a bestselling one as well, owe their existence to the widespread naivete of the tsunami of wannabe authors, a creature of our time and the spawn of Amazon.  The books they pour over to acquire their writing skills do not contain stunning revelations, sure-fire gimmicks or heretofore closely guarded secrets on the “writing game.” Nope. And most are a rip.

But they are popping up all over the place because it seems everyone wants to be an “author” today, but few have  invested the time and energy necessary to master the craft of writing.  Sure, talent is important, but it’s not enough.  It takes time and effort, tons of reading and writing, re-writing, practice-practice-practice and revision. We’re talking years here, friend. And even then there are no guarantees.

Yes, but! you will say, what about all those instant bestselling ebooks by nobody writers?  What about them? Here today, gone tomorrow.  Do you remember what was on the bestseller lists ten years ago? I rest my case.

As both a writer and editor myself of many years, there are no truths I am more certain of than the “sweat factor” and the long learning curve that go into making a great writer.  Reading all the “how to” books on writing ever written does not a good writer make.

When I am introduced to someone for the first time, one of the most frequent questions I get, after my new friend has learned I’m a writer, is: “Wow.  Where do you get your ideas?” Now, you may think that sounds naive.  But it isn’t really.  All the great book ideas come from life, not from books about writing.  They come from watching and studying people, listening to them, wondering about them–and then asking yourself if so and so were in such and such a situation, what would this person do?

Voila: a believable plot is born, originating in character, and possibly resulting in an interesting book.


Having said all this, I will now nevertheless offer humbly a short list of writing tutorials (click-click) worth your time and their weight in gold.

About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger. Follow me on Twitter @LangstaffEditor
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10 Responses to What’s the Big Idea?

  1. SD Gates says:

    I have stopped buying all those books that tell you how you should write. The only ones I have really enjoyed and appreciated are Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Annie Lamott’s book on writing. The rest have been stashed in a bookcase somewhere, never to be opened again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bowmanauthor says:

    I always wonder where this stuff comes from. Is there a secret formula, a software package that connects the dots of your plot? Oodles of ’em! If we are want to sound like robots, this is the way to go! I believe in uniqueness, creativity, and personal expression. I also believe in long hours of grueling work to research fiction (yes, fiction!) to get it right and make it believable. There is no magic formula unless you want to sound finite and computer-generated. I prefer to sound human. Thanks, Margaret Jean for a great article!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bowmanauthor says:

    You got that right!


  4. poemsbynadia says:

    Great post! I’m an advocate for the only piece of writing advice I find of importance. It said, “The first step to writing a great novel is to write. That’s it. No further steps required.” If you can make it past the first step and actually finish your novel, then I’m sure you could figure out the rest.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. dgkaye says:

    Great post Margaret! It reminds me of the typical story many writers hear when approached by someone who casually says, ‘Ya, I think I’m going to write a book one day,’ as though there’s nothing to it. Much truth is in what you say about watching and learning from life. And when I look at my writing books I am comforted to see the writings of Anne Lamott, William Zinsser, Stephen King, Julia Cameron, Strunk and White, et al. 🙂


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