Yesterday, as me and my flatmate Josh prepare our starting screenplays for a number of short films we plan to film in the next few months, we went to the local library and got out a number of books on screenwriting and directing short films. We also went to the local screenwriter's group, then watched the excellent French remake of 'Fingers', 'The Beat My Heart Skipped' (Although superbly acted and directed, I felt there wasn't enough consistent change in the plot and character arcs to fully justify this as a 'great' movie, but it had a nice, disconnected, 'Taxi Driver' feel to it.)
I know a lot of successful writers both in print and on screen hate the idea of books giving advice on how to write, that it restricts the creative process and turns everything into formula, boring and static. Personally, I think books on writing are as useful to you as writing itself, but with one condition - you have to open the book with an open mind.
There's a similar argument behind critique groups - a lot of people don't like people reading their work and tearing it apart. We're very close to our material - it's like a child to us, completely our own making. So when someone tells us we're doing it wrong, like parents we can often react badly. After all, no one likes being told what to do.For me, the gain from critique groups and advice books far outweighs the (not inconsiderable) blow to my ego.
When I started out writing I devoured everything I could find on writing Science Fiction, looking primarily on the internet because as a sixteen year old fifteen pound textbooks weren't exactly easy to buy. I read a lot of advice, attended two Alpha workshops for Young Writer's Of Speculative Fiction, and then wrote a fairly large amount in response to what I'd read.After a few years of not writing much, I started to get back into reading around the subject - this time mostly screenwriting and story structure.
To my surprise, reading these books kick-started my own writing again - not only was I learning, but I was being inspired to write.It's continued on like that. I'll read a load of advice and be inspired to write. Then after a few months my writing will run out of steam. After a while I'll sit down to read some writing books and suddenly my word coutn will start picking up again.I think the important thing to remember is that you're never finished learning. I don't intend to ever assume i'm the master. I'll always be open to suggestions of improvements, or how else will I stop becoming stale?The key to brilliance is a willingness to change.