The most entertaining writing books are bursting with sarcastic charges against bad grammar and brutally honest expositions on the unglamorous and psychologically challenging exercise of composing a written work. They’re also penned by experienced writers who have had a least some sort of mild success in the business. Anne Lamott’s bird by bird and Susan Shapiro’s Only as Good as Your Word were two titles which I found very informative and just fun to read. Something I suppose writers can’t help but include between their pages of pro-tips is their life. Sometimes the divorce fiasco relates to how they got the New York Times clip, but on other occasions you find yourself reading a memoir + rants about adverbs. Not to say that I haven’t enjoyed this. I think wacky stories about how authors first started writing helps keep things interesting.
On Writing by the horror/science fiction novelist, Stephen King, also fuses memoir with writing manual. Although, he splits it right down the middle. The first half of the book catalogues how exactly he came to have the life he did, with all the writing for tiny school publications and all the hundreds of rejection slips. And then the remainder of the pages are spent on practical advice.
I found the first half helpful only in the fact that it shows a young writer how the life often goes. There’s a lot of rejection and living off pennies before any sort of return on investment. This is the part that perhaps many college student writers don’t want to think about. The harsh reality of the industry. But it also sort of gives one hope. It’s possible, someone did it. When I got to the more instructive part of King’s manual, I enjoyed learning from someone who had focused on fiction. While I don’t think I could replicate the practices of Stephen King with the same result– he writes the first drafts of his book in three months– I found the practical approaches insightful and inspiring.
Somehow the authors who construct such books are able to be both boldly narcissistic and just encouraging enough to not completely crush your dreams of becoming a writer. And King follows suit.