This is a perfect read for those who enjoy their information delivered to them through storytelling. Think of a past generation’s On Writing. Like Stephen King did in his opus on the craft of writing, W. Somerset Maugham takes the reader to wonderful places while sharing truths and insights into the life and work of the writer. Keep a pen handy; you will want to take copious notes and pin them above your workstation for inspiration.
Whether you’re a novelist or a playwright, you’ll be delighted by the backstage pass Maugham offers. His self-deprecating humour and honesty will resonate with your inner writer—how refreshing to learn such an acclaimed writer had the same insecurities as we ourselves experience as writers. His thorough description of theatre, playwriting and the relationships between writer, actors, director and audience are golden. Reading about his theatre experiences and play creation process will feel like a workshop experience.
Throughout Maugham’s thought-provoking and educational narrative, there is much for writers to contemplate. On giving up on novel writing to focus on playwriting – ‘Thank God, I can look at a sunset now without having to think how to describe it.’ His best advice for playwrights – ‘I think the secret of playwriting can be given in two maxims: stick to the point and whenever you can, cut.’
Alas, as insightful and bang-on as most of his teachings on writing are in this extraordinary glimpse into a writer’s life, the last quarter of the book drags as he leaves writing behind and hits on the topic of philosophy. Nevertheless, The Summing Up will strike a chord with all writers. The price of admission for this amazing writerly wisdom? The rants of a man in search of his personal philosophy. His philosophy ramblings aside, though, I highly recommend this book.
My favourite quote from THE SUMMING UP:
“Every production of an artist should be the expression of an adventure of his soul.”