A Completely Unscientific Survey to Grab the Greatest Lessons From the Greatest Book on Writing
Put five writers around a table, ask one question, and then get out of the way.
The question? “What is the best book about writing?”
A completely unscientific survey of Medium shows Stephen King’s “On Writing,” to be the most popular.
It’s easy to see why. King has published 57 novels — each a bestseller and has sold over 350 million copies. According to Forbes, King earns around $40 million each year — every year.
King’s $40 million annual payday is more than I make in, let’s say, six weeks, so he’s someone worth listening to.
According to Minimum Daily Word Count, King claims to write 2000 words a day. Those of us who slog along in the muddy trenches range from 500 to 3000 words a day with 1000 being the average.
Apparently the more you write, the more you make.
So what do writers think about King’s “On Writing”?
Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.
King gets his ideas from everywhere. But what all of his ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it’s seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question ‘What if?’ ‘What if’ is always the key question.
But could it really be that simple?
The question of where successful authors get their ideas is the one that keeps aspiring writers up at night. It’s the one that makes you feel like you’re missing something, especially when writer’s block sets in, or you’ve written yourself into a corner.
On moving from a life clearly laid out and planned to a writer’s life, Phil says:
…I knew I found something that brought me joy — but I panicked at the thought of a life of writing. The gravity of undertaking such an unclear life path with such little experience to prove I could make it defied the stable and well-paying career path I laid for myself with my business degree.
Phil learned a lot from “On Writing,” but one of the biggest is dealing with rejection:
“The writer’s life is rife with rejection. Get used to it.”
“If you’ve ever heard a professional writer/novelist give a talk they all say the same thing: you need to read. And read lots. Read everything you can get your hands on and it will improve your own writing. “
Remember publishing is a business, so if for no other reason reading will give you an idea of what publishers are willing to invest money in.
Josh is a big fan of Gary Vaynerchuk <@garyvee> and ties King’s advice in with “Gary V’s prediction that he (Vaynerchuk) will:
“probably end up writing more books than he has read. And he’s published 3 best sellers (whatever that means…).”
Like the rest of us, Niels wanted to learn new things from the master, but — like the rest of us — didn’t expect the book would be a pleasure to read.
Niels touches on King’s prolific daily word count, but adds an important caveat:
“Write with intent.” In other words, don’t just write for the sake of writing. Be sure to understand grammar basics, pacing, and good dialogue.
Writing with intent simple means study the form you are writing, master that form and publish in that form. It means never again using prompts or writing exercises, time-wasting morning pages or any other such stuff that does not get to the heart of mastering the medium in which you want to publish.
Brian Rowe ‘s “Why I Love Stephen King’s ‘On Writing,’ highlight’s King’s advice:
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, no shortcut.”
Ok. We’ve already talked about reading a lot. But Brian takes it a little deeper, peeling the onion and points out King’s last bit of ‘push’ for the experienced and novice writers:
“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink and be filled up.”