Monday, 4 February 2013

Writing: A User Manual

I’ve just finished reading Writing: A User Manual by David Hewson. Unlike many other writing books, Hewson doesn’t say, “These are the rules to writing,” instead he says, “This is how I do it.” If you’ve ever considered writing a novel, then I’d certainly recommend reading it.

There are, naturally, many lessons that all writers can take from this book, whether they write novels or not. In it, he makes an interesting point about how writers work, as creative artists. There are many who bash out the first draft of a piece of text, and then go back later and edit. There are some who agonise over every word and won’t move on until it is right. Whichever way you do it, it doesn’t matter - as long as it’s a system that works for you.

Hewson suggests that some writers should think more about their writing techniques. He draws upon the methods of other creative people. A painter, for instance, doesn’t slap on a whole load of paint, and then hone their piece by deleting the paint that isn’t necessary. Whereas a writer might bash out 120,000 words, and then delete 40,000 words, a painter might sketch an outline and consider carefully, the colours required and where each stroke will go. A painter’s creativity is, generally, something that evolves, step-by-step.

Whereas a sculptor will take a huge block of stone and start deleting it, chipping away to reveal their creation. What’s left is a fraction of what there was at the start, but it has been turned into something beautiful. He raises an important point: creativity is a process. The creative element of writing is not the bashing out of the first draft. The editing process is just as much, if not more, of the creativity system. 

Does how you write matter? Only if it doesn’t work, argues Hewson. He looks at a few common rules offered to writers and gives his take on them. (See his section I Like Adverbs - There, I’ve Said It, Boldly.) And he demonstrates how less is more. The section on the choices he makes for his settings is quite revealing. And there are some lovely anecdotes about co-incidences in this writing world.

So, whatever your next project is, take time to enjoy the creative process.

Good luck.

Writing: A User Manual by David Hewson.
ISBN: 978-1408157428
Available from Amazon and other bookstores.


  1. So many books to read; so many ideas flying around in my head; so little time to get it all done. My biggest problem lies in being a very slow reader. By slow I do mean S L O W!!! A book of 350 pages will normally take two weeks for me to read. So when I read a recomendation such as this one, I do nothing about, simply becuase I know full well that if I do buy it, it will sit on the bookshelf and not get read at all. But thanks anyway Simon ;-)))

    1. If it's any help Ron, this book is 244 pages, including the appendices, but excluding the index!