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June Great Books Club Selection:
On Writing

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What can a copywriter learn from a master of suspense and horror? Quite a lot, actually. Stephen King is one of the most bestselling writers of all time. But it’s one of his little-known works that will be featured in the Great Books Club.

On Writing is King’s guide to powerful and effective writing. And it has an honored place on the bookshelves of many of the industry’s top copywriters. One of them, John Forde, will be joining Marcella for this session.

Here’s John on why he chose this book:

“What an oddball book, you might think, to find in a Book Club that's about how to sell stuff with writing … rather than one on how to write fiction bestsellers. And what a weird choice of a writer — yours truly — to help us talk about it.

“After all, I've got to confess, out of all the books Stephen King has written — and he's written enough to sink a cargo ship — this is the only one I've ever read. And yet, picking this book up again threw me back to a memory that's years and years old, as in the duration of time that makes you shiver to think about it, back when I wanted to be another kind of writer too.

“Novels, short stories, maybe screenplays — and I was taking this fiction writing class in college.

“The first day, the teacher walks in and he says, ‘I'm sorry.’

“‘I'm sorry about how studying what you're about to study is going to ruin you for every kind of situation you'll ever be in, from here on out.

“‘Sorry because, once you start looking at the world as a writer, you're never going to be able to shut it off. Every movie you'll see, every book you'll read, every conversation you'll have … you're going to walk away rewriting it in your mind. How could I have said that tighter? Did I read that audience right? Did I deliver the line that made them feel what I hoped they'd feel? … ’ And he went on like that, for the rest of the year.

“I can't count the times I went back to thinking about that. And one of them, absolutely, was the first time I picked up Stephen King's book, On Writing.

“By that time, I was already deep into writing copy for a living. Novels were — and are — on a back burner.

“But King reminded me again that, once you strip away the stylistic differences, all writing demands a pretty similar outlook. And all writers share a pretty similar set of goals. For instance, like King says in his book, all great writing has to be telepathic. It's not enough just to tell your reader — even a prospective buyer — what he's looking at. You've got to plant a sense of something, smack in the middle of his mind.

“Or how fiction, of course, is all about having a narrative you can't bear to leave unfinished. The same is true for great sales copy, which is why we lean so much on the tools of storytelling.

“Fiction creates a sensory bed of details, so real the reader can't help but lie down in it. You and I have to do that too, when we need to get the reader to get a sense of something we're talking about.

“And in both, if the readers ever see the nuts and bolts and rivets of what you're trying to accomplish, you risk distracting them from seeing it through to the finish.

“It's all in there, in King's book. Plus lots more on the power of habit — he aims to write 10 pages a day — and the value of reading, about which he's rabid and says we should be too.

“I've yet to meet a great or even good copywriter who would disagree with any of it. And I'm excited to slip back into this book so we can talk about it on June 18th.

“I hope you guys are too.”

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: May 21, 2015

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