I’m a junkie for books about writing, but out of the dozens I’ve read over the years, two books written by guys named Stephen rise far above the rest: Stephen King’s On Writing and the unfortunately titled but indispensable The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch.
King’s book is a combination autobiography and nuts-and-bolts instruction about the craft. If you are thinking about writing a novel you should immediately read On Writing, even if you don’t particularly care for King’s work. It is by far the best, no-nonsense account of the reality of the writing life and its requirements—the ability to sit in a chair and bang on the keys, repeatedly, day-in and day-out, until something resembling a novel emerges. And then to return again, and again, until it’s worthy of the light of day. Until I read this a second time, I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to write a book. King convinced me I did, and I’m grateful that he didn’t sugarcoat what is ultimately a lonely, difficult, grueling—but immensely rewarding—process.
If you can imagine cramming several years of MFA classes into 272 pages of text, you would find it in between the covers of Stephen Koch’s brilliant guidebook. I could blather on about it, but I suggest you read the stellar reviews on Amazon instead, including a ringing endorsement by Madison Smartt Bell.
There are plenty of by-the-numbers how-to books about writing, but very few about the totality of the writing life. The two Stephens tell it like it is, without romanticizing or dumbing down, and for anyone contemplating writing a book I can’t think of better sources of inspiration.