If You Only Read ONE Book On Writing…(Tips on Writing Tuesday #5)

A friend of mine who is becoming a more serious writer asked me this week, “I want to find a book on writing, can you suggest one.”

I could and I did.  I didn’t even have to think about it.

If you only read one book on writing, I suggest it should be (aptly named), On Writing by Stephen King.

You should actually read more than that, but if you could only read one, it should be that one.


Is it because I have a maniacal love affair with Mr. King and his writing and take everything he says to be the gospel truth?  No.  In fact, I have only read a handful of his books in my life time (and some of them I really didn’t like…don’t tell).

No, it’s because in this ‘memoir on the craft’ Stephen King does exactly what any good writer should do…he makes you feel a connection to the main character.  In this case, the main character is him.

As opposed to being a textbook or a ‘how to’ book on writing, we learn not by doing first, but by caring first.  Stephen, in his own relaxed, inviting writing style, invites you to care about him, his writing career, his family, and ultimately your own writing dreams and goals.  Then he is able to provide insight that is beneficial to help with those dreams and goals.

Besides the fact that I now have a deeper respect for Stephen King the man (he talks about his early days of writing, his family life, his almost fatal accident), I also have a love for Stephen King the writer.  Some of the personal insights he shared that were of particular help to me on how to improve as a writer are:

– “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of.”

– “Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggest cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings)…I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this note: “Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.”

– “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.”

It is truly one of the most fascinating books I have ever read.  It changed me as a writer, because it changed me as a person.  Ultimately, that’s what good writing has the potential to do, but only if we give a part of ourselves to it.

If you have not read it, get a copy – today!

If you have read On Writing, did it help you as a writer?  How?


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