Charles Johnson’s The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling does not offer the gimmicks and easy solutions of many how-to-write books. There are no promises of writing a great novel in 52 weekends or during your child’s lengthy dance recitals. And he reveals no formulas for writing a best seller. Instead, Johnson delivers lessons about hard work and devotion to writing. He recommends that all writers closely read a dictionary (or multiple dictionaries) cover to cover in order to have more words at their disposal. He also discusses the amount of work he put into his novels, such as throwing away roughly 3,000 pages while working on his award-winning novel Middle Passage, a book that ended up running just over 200 pages in its final version.
Many books on writing seem to be as much about motivation as they are about writing, but motivation doesn’t seem to have ever been an issue for Johnson. He wrote six novels in the late sixties and early seventies, spending no more than 10 weeks on any of them. All six remain unpublished, but he does emphasize the huge impact all that work had on his development as a writer. Instead of offering tricks and secrets, Johnson seems to say in The Way of the Writer that anyone can become a writer if they are willing to put in a tremendous amount of hard work.