I went to graduate school for my Masters in Fine Arts, and although I received advice about a number of books to read, Stephen King’s On Writing was not one of them. In fact, no Stephen King books were on the recommended reading lists that I recall.
But I just finished On Writing and I have to say that it was practical, filled with good advice, and a damned fine read. Much of the advice I’d heard before — kill your darlings, eschew adverbs, write with the vocabulary you have, just sit down and write every day. Regardless, something about the way he cut right to the spine, the diversity of his own recommended reading list, and the examples he provided were all were exactly what I needed right now. Clear, concise, unflinching, and encouraging.
He actually made it seem possible to write a the first draft of a novel in three to six months. Start with the situation, and write 2,000 words a day, no matter what. After that first draft, put it in a drawer for six weeks. Then revise and clean up your manuscript a bit before giving it out to some of your ideal readers. Consider what pieces of their feedback you want to consider, and clean it up some more. Send it off to your publishers and cash your million dollar checks.
Okay, so that last bit was particular to his current life, not to mine or anyone else I know (although he did provide some suggestions on obtaining an agent and gaining publication credits for the beginning writer). He acknowledged which advice was particular to his own preferences (he tends to tell as story A-Z versus in media res) and which advice was probably universal (show versus tell). He abhors plot (although it does seem to happen organically for him) and only considers theme after the work is complete.
It was a good book, and if nothing else the 2,000 words a day is a new goal.
By the way, I don’t mean to diminish other craft books as I think they each have a role and audience. Last week, though, I needed Stephen King’s advice. Next, perhaps I’ll be Burning Down the House with Charles Baxter or back to Alone with All That Could Happen (renamed On Writing Fiction for the newest edition) with David Jauss.