I read a lot books on writing. Some of them are helpful, others not so much. One day I’ll write a post listing my favorites. But since I can feature only one on Read it! I’ve selected my favorite: On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

Although he has moments of brilliance, and I certainly admire his prolificacy, I am not a rabid King fan. I’m not even sure what induced me to pick up his book on writing. Perhaps I was looking for some hint as to how he manages to produce so much copy. Well, this book holds the answer. He works like a fiend. He writes seven days a week and produces ten pages a day. Ten pages, folks! Ten!

What’s it about?
On Writing is part autobiography (“CV”) and part writing primer (“Toolbox” and “On Writing”). King discusses his development as a writer, his road to success and his own slew of rejections. But he also talks about what it means to be a writer. The pain, the joy and the hard work. Misery loves company.

Why Read it?
Much of King’s advice consists of mantras you’ve heard again and again: don’t overdo description, avoid passive voice, dialogue should reflect how people actually speak, writing is really revising, research should be organic to the story, grammar and vocabulary are the essential tools of the writer, don’t overuse adverbs (“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs,” p 118), so on and so forth. But even though these lessons are not new, King presents them in an engaging way. Somehow hearing the nuts and bolts stuff from this über-successful writer is heartening. He’s just another member of the club.

But what makes King’s book stand out from the rest is his emphasis on what he call the “Great Commandment.”

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” (p 145)

He doubts writing can be learned in the classroom, but pick up a copy of The Shipping News or Heart of Darkness and learn.

Here’s the sweet part. You know that pulp novel you’re reading? The one with the cover you hide if anyone walks by? King says you’re actually learning as you read. Every book has something to teach and oft times the lousy books are the best teachers. How can you not be on board with a philosophy like that?

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