I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe in theory when it comes to creative subjects. Not to the same extend as with other subjects, like mathematics or quantum physics, anyway. Creative things, like painting or sculpting, are best learned by doing and making mistakes, and writing definitely fits that bill, too.

However, reading theory shouldn’t be dismissed entirely if you’re a writer. While I can’t speak for the painters or the sculptors amongst you out there, I can speak for myself – and I’m a writer who finds reading theory incredibly useful. Even entertaining at times.

I know, but bear with me.

The books which have taught me the most (and have made me laugh at times) are these:

The First Five Pages

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A Writer’s Guide to Psychology

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Save the Cat (check out the review here)

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Self-Printed – The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing (read the review here)

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There are plenty of theory books out there, but if you don’t know where to start then I hope that this short list can point you in the right direction.

The only other kind of theory reading every writer should do is to read everything. Not quite literally of course – but if you’ve read every single book ever written get in touch. We need to talk.

You can learn so much by reading other people’s books that it’s too valuable an experience to pass up. You learn what works for you, what doesn’t work for you, what you’re okay with despite every manual ever written telling you that it shouldn’t be done. It improves your own writing immensely. And who doesn’t love a good book?

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Exactly.

But why should you read theory? Writing is an incredibly complex art form. If I live to be a hundred years old with one book written for every year that I’ve lived, I still wouldn’t know everything there is to know about writing. I still wouldn’t write the perfect book, and neither would you. And that’s perfectly fine, because something like writing can’t ever be perfected. There are too many genres out there, too many sub-genres, and far too many possibilities.

And yet I’d still pick up a good theory book when I’m one hundred years old, because I’ll always find something I haven’t considered before. This might be a writing technique to try, a writing prompt, a research idea, a new way to approach plotting my book, or something else I haven’t played with before.

Don’t think of reading theory as admitting that your writing is lacking. Think of it as a treasure cove full of useful information, which can only improve your writing. No matter how talented or experienced you are, you can always improve, so your current skill level doesn’t matter.

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You should read theory because you might find a way to make your characters more believable.

You should read theory because you might learn a few tricks about world-building.

You should read theory because it might inspire you to try something new – which might then turn into your new favourite method.

You should read theory because your writing will profit from it.

Still not convinced? Pick up any of the four books above, and just read the first five pages. See what they can offer you.

What is your favourite theory book on writing? Which book has aided you the most, and maybe even still helps you today? Is there a book you keep referring to? Are you completely against reading theory and need a little more convincing? Grab a cookie and let’s chat!

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