There are hundreds of ‘How to…’ books on the market for wannabe writers and during this semester, I’ve read several set texts on the craft of writing, the most useful one being of Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose (a very apt surname for a writer!).
But the best book I’ve ever read about the creative writing process was not on the uni reading list. It is On Writing by Stephen King and is brilliant, not just for the tips on writing but also as a fascinating insight into the life of one of America’s most successful writers.
The man has written a gazillion novels and his estimated net worth is $ 400 million so it’s fair to say that he definitely knows what he’stalking about in the realm of bestsellers. I’ve seen most of the film adaptions but not read any of his books but you don’t need to be a fan or an aspiring writer to enjoy this memoir of the craft. This isn’t a book for literary snobs but it’s certainly a book for anyone trying to hone their writing technique and find out what makes this guy tick.
It’s a great mix of life story and writing advice where he cuts through the crap and is completely honest about the highs and lows of his career (literally through his years of drink and drug addiction) and his miraculous recovery from a near fatal car crash.
I’m proud to say that King has Scottish roots and this shows in his completely unpretentious attitude to telling it like it is. He sees his phenomenal success story as being down to sheer hard work. King writes 2,000 words a day and urges wannabes to read a lot and write a lot. Simple theory- practise makes perfect (or as good as you’re ever gonna get).
“Don’t wait for the muse … This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic.”
The book is packed full of words of wisdom. I wish I’d read it years ago and realised that only timid writers use passive verbs and that “the adverb is not your friend”. I’ve got a lot to learn but now that the uni semester is over, it’s time for me to stop reading the ‘How to…’ books and in the words of the great Greek goddess of victory, Nike, just do it!
If you’ve never read the book, it’s not too late to add it to your letter to Santa. Just remember King’s advice about adverbs and don’t write that you’d screamloudly, be extremely happy, wildly jump around excitedly on Christmas morning and promise to really cherish the lovely gift if you find it in your stocking!