Cowan recommended a handful of books to help aspiring writers to Daisy Banks of FiveBooks, including:
On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftRead about the other books Cowan recommends.
by Stephen King
I never would have expected the master of terror Stephen King to write a book about writing. But your next choice, On Writing, is more of an autobiography.
Yes. It is a surprise to a lot of people that this book is so widely read on university campuses and so widely recommended by teachers of writing. Students love it. It’s bracing: there’s no nonsense. He says somewhere in the foreword or preface that it is a short book because most books are filled with bullshit and he is determined not to offer bullshit but to tell it like it is.
It is autobiographical. It describes his struggle to emerge from his addictions – to alcohol and drugs – and he talks about how he managed to pull himself and his family out of poverty and the dead end into which he had taken them. He comes from a very disadvantaged background and through sheer hard work and determination he becomes this worldwide bestselling author. This is partly because of his idea of the creative muse. Most people think of this as some sprite or fairy that is usually feminine and flutters about your head offering inspiration. His idea of the muse is ‘a basement guy’, as he calls him, who is grumpy and turns up smoking a cigar. You have to be down in the basement every day clocking in to do your shift if you want to meet the basement guy.
Stephen King has this attitude that if you are going to be a writer you need to keep going and accept that quite a lot of what you produce is going to be rubbish and then you are going to revise it and keep working at it.
Do you agree with him?
Yes, I do. I think he talks an awful lot of sense. There is this question which continues to be asked of people who teach creative writing, even though it has been taught in the States for over 100 years and in the UK for over 40 years. We keep being asked, ‘Can writing be taught?’ And King says it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, but what is possible, with lots of hard work and dedication and timely help, is to make a good writer out of a merely competent one. And his book is partly intended to address that, to help competent writers to become good ones. It is inspirational because he had no sense of entitlement. He is not a bookish person and yet he becomes this figurehead.