On one of my early writer’s groups retreats, our group leader brought in the book “On Writing,” by Stephen King. I’m a horror wuss so I don’t read or watch horror material, the lasting effect of seeing “The Exorcist,” when I was a teenager. My horror prejudice worked against me, I had never read King’s book, “On Writing,” published in 2000.
During our free time at the retreat I picked up the book and skimmed through the first part which talked about his early attempts at writing, the rejection letters, and his problems with drugs and alcohol. I don’t believe the latter was the result of the former.
Section Two contains the practical advice on the craft of writing. He gives tips on idea development, characters, editing, and the use of adverbs (stay far away from them). Now this was helpful, he gives his original version of “The Hotel Story,” and then he shows his revisions. It’s a good book that gives an interesting story about a very interesting writer.
King recommends “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. It’s been around so long that there is a 50th Edition; it’s sometimes called the bible for good writing and all things grammar. It’s written in a direct no holds barred style. If you were lucky enough to have a good English teacher then you probably used this book in high school or college. It’s a keeper.
Now, between the styles of King and S&W you’ll find Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” She starts giving you good advice right in the beginning. She quotes her father telling her 10 year old brother, who is lamenting about a project he procrastinated on, to take it “bird by bird.” Start small and take it one piece at a time.
Ms. Lamott has a sense of style and wit that makes for easy reading even though she does give you assignments in the book. A valuable contribution, that I often thought of when I worked on my first novel, is “Shitty First Drafts.” I read that chapter and thought ‘hot damn,’ she (a famous author) has given me permission to have a crummy first draft. I can write several pages (really only two-it’s the Virgo in me) before I felt the pull to self edit. Her perspective on character and plot are interesting and well worth reading.
The last two books are what I should have purchased before I began writing. I could have saved time, stress,and premature, and embarrassing, submission to a writer’s class. The first book is “Sol Stein on Writing,”by who else but SS and “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” by Renni Brown and Dave King. There is just too much information to tell you about Stein’s book, it’s over 300 pages but oh so worth reading. Mine is dogeared, highlighted and sprouting pink and green Post-It Page Markers. “Self-Editing,” is valuable reading and re-reading. The chapter on Point of View, which I struggle with, is smudged with my fingerprints, and tears.
I’ve read a couple of more books on writing: James Frey’s (not the one that was on the big O) “How to Write a Damn Good Novel,” and one of my favorites (from the 99 cents store) “Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.” It has great illustrations and was a fantastic buy.
Whatever you find on the craft of writing, the point is to read, read, and then read some more until you find a book that is understandable, memorable, and hopefully bargain priced. Or you can go to your next writing group and swap or trade books. Someone might have the 2000 Stephen King “Book on Writing,” and is willing to swap, after all the 10th Anniversary Edition just came out in July 2010. Or you can treat yourself and buy your own.