There are tons of books on writing out there, both for the would-be writer and the seasoned professional. Books on writing are a dime a dozen and if you’re someone who is just starting out, looking for a little advice or wanting to learn something, the task of finding a good one could be daunting. I know for myself, having read a bunch of them over the years, finding the right one is often extremely difficult. For me, the best books on writing are those written by other novelists. You get a peek inside their mind, how they work, what makes them bring the word to the page. And there are plenty of novelists who have written books on writing, or their publishers have cobbled together one via various sources in which the author had discussed it, either via lectures, letters, diaries, interviews, etc.
From my personal experience, many of these books on writing aren’t worth the time, money and energy. Many of them are written with the idea that you intend to write “The Bestseller” and most of those are geared towards the “tricks of the trade” rather than some insight into the nuances or going into depth what a novel is or could be. If anything, they read more like something out of a creative writing class, where the impression is given that there is only one way to correctly approach the novel and I’ve spent many frustrating hours combing these wastes of paper only to find myself even more discouraged.
For me, the best education anyone could get on writing is to read and read widely and of course, to write and write often. Study the books you love to read, the authors you admire, see how they do what they do, why they approach their narrative one way as opposed to the other. However this doesn’t mean there aren’t good books on writing out there that any writer - beginner or veteran - could benefit from. Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s “The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist” is one of them.
Pamuk is an author I had heard of but never read (this will soon change) but I had come across this book by chance and decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. This was easily one of the best books on writing and the study of the novel I’ve read in a very long time. Using Freidrich Schiller’s famous distinction between “Naïve” and “Sentimental” writers as a starting point, Pamuk goes on to talk about his own writing process and how it relates to the novel. He also shows how as readers we are also either one or the other and together it becomes a very educational experience.
In short, this is the distinction: The “Naive” writer is one who writes spontaneously, with more emphasis on story and less on technique and the mechanics of writing and generally writes without much concern with anything deeper than that; the “Sentimental” writer being one deeply concerned with form, technique, the art of writing, and all the nuances that go into composing a work of literature. The beautiful thing about Pamuk’s book is that he doesn’t take one side or the other, seeing the “ideal” as being a little something of both. While he admits he leans more towards the “Sentimental” side, he does not look down his nose at the other and offers his own experience as a writer and reader as examples. What you get is a thoroughly interesting and nuanced education on the art of the novel and it is one that I know will help me with regard to my own writing - which is the point of reading such books. It is refreshingly devoid of any “highbrow” pretension and even if you’re a writer who shies away from writing Literary fiction, this book can definitely help enhance those writers who work with Genre fiction (it is a divide I think is useless and each could learn and incorporate elements from the other to produce very interesting writing, in my view).
This book, along with John Gardner’s “The Art of Fiction”, Stephen King’s “On Writing”, Ray Bradbury’s “Zen In The Art of Writing”, and Samuel R. Delany’s “About Writing”, will definitely open new doors for a writer, especially one who is just starting out and is trying to find their way. Writing is like any other art, one in which there is always room to learn something and God knows I feel I’m still learning as I try to move forward. This book will help and it comes highly recommended. So if you’re looking for a good book on writing, try this one. You won’t regret it and you will learn something valuable from it.