I only read DIY writing books that someone recommends to me in a workshop, class, or writing group. I had this 316-page book with very small print at the bottom of the stack. As I read the early chapters on feelings and conflict, I found them informative but familiar. The writing concepts I’d read about before in other books on writing.
Professor Swain has a conversational style easy to follow and understand. He makes a point, slices it into smaller parts, and explains those parts with descriptions and brief examples. His sentences are short, his paragraphs, too. His examples, rather than being pages of his own writing, are a short sentence or two.
As I read further and encountered more familiar concepts, I flipped to the copyright page and discovered this book was written by a University of Oklahoma professor in 1965! At over 55 years old, this book was as current as some published last year. At first, I assumed it was a case of widespread plagiarism, but as I read, I realized the concepts had probably been taught in every MFA class since Professor Swain taught.
In addition to being easy to read and comprehend, Techniques of a Selling Writer introduces writing concepts in a different order than writers of today. Instead of starting with character, plot, and POV, Professor Swain begins with a more organic approach: feelings, conflict, and strategy. Then, he discusses writing a beginning, middle, and end (in one chapter!), outlining, and editing. He wraps up with marketing but without the dated references you’d expect. He does have one page of how to type up a manuscript (with carbons!) in the appendix, but the other pages are very timely.
It’s a little dated in generic pronouns and women’s roles in stories, but the basic building blocks are solid and apparently timeless. Plus, he’s a bit of a cheerleader and fun to read. I heard him speaking as I read even though he’s been dead almost 30 years.
I’ve made more notes from this book than I have on any other, and I’m sure I’ll crack it open often when I have a question about my writing. This book is a treasure, and I’m glad someone recommended it to me. I should have placed it at the top of my stack.