On Writing by Stephen King

Okay so, On Writing, mi lub dis book bad (English translation: I really liked this book). It’s hard to know where to begin with the sharing because it’s so bookmarked. What I can say, in general, is that it reads more like a memoir than a how-to book though at the end you will have learned a thing or two about how-to…including that some of it is a kind of magic that is unexplainable even to the person doing it, a fact King acknowledges up front when he said, “…most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included don’t understand very much about what they do – not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad.” And yet the only thing I disagreed with King about was the change of a character’s name in an edit of a sample from one of his stories at the end of the book; because the man knows his stuff and he reinforced some of what I already knew and added to it, teaching me new things. And because the book is memoir style, he teaches mostly by doing; as we read the stories of his childhood we’re learning how to tell a good story and then, bonus, he connects the dots. I’ll share some of my favourite bits:

After he’d written and shared a story with his mom for the first time:

‘“You didn’t copy this one?” she asked when she had finished. I said no, I hadn’t. She said it was good enough to be in a book. Nothing anyone has said to me since has made me feel any happier.’

On where ideas come from:

“…quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

On editing:

(via his editor at his first newspaper gig) ‘“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”’

On self-doubt and support (and his wife Tabitha King):

“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is enough.” (Sidebar: Tabitha was the one who dug his crumpled pages of Carrie out of the garbage and when he said he didn’t know anything about high school girls told him she’d help him with that part. Because she believed, even when he didn’t. “You’ve got something here,” she said. And, boy, did he. Sidebar 2: I love that the first thing he bought when he got his first book deal was a hairdryer for her. Sidebar 3: It depresses me a little that he sold his first book for $400,000 but then that’s why he’s SK).

On reading being essential to writing…and practice making perfect:

“The more fiction you read and write, the more you’ll find your paragraphs forming on their own.”

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

On overdressing:

“Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes.”

On beats:

“Kellerman writes a lot of frags because he hears a lot of frags.” (Sidebar: I had to use this one, because I like that SK likes JK since JK is one of my addictions)

On effort:

“…if you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well…There is a Muse but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station.” (Sidenote: My Muse is always a woman; I wonder if your Muse is always the same gender as you)

On finding time to read (this is how I do it):

“I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in. The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows.”

On motivating yourself:

“You need a concrete goal, as well.” (Sidenote: Now I know this is true for my work writing but for my creative writing I didn’t realize this until I wrote more words than I’ve written all year in the past week because I was pushing toward a particular goal…suddenly I had time to write though there were the same number of hours in a day and my work/schedule was just as packed. Go figure.)

On money as a motivator…not:

“…the job of fiction is to find the truth inside the story’s web of lies, not to commit intellectual dishonesty in the search for a buck.”

On what to write about:

“Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex and work. Especially work.People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do.” (Sidenote: I love that he uses The Firm, one of my favourite Grisham books, to illustrate this point).

On plotting:

“A strong enough situation makes the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a what-if question.” (Sidenote: yeah, I don’t write from plot either… I lean more on character and situations…and intuition)

On description:

“In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring’, the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.”

“The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary.”

On dialogue:

“…let each character speak freely, without regard to what the Legion of Decency or the Christian Ladies’ Reading Circle may approve of.”

On revealing, not explaining, character:

“(if) I can show you a silent, dirty-haired woman who compulsively gobbles cake and candy, then have you draw the conclusion that Annie is in the depressive part of a manic-depressive cycle, I win.”

“…if you do your job, your characters come to life and start doing stuff on their own.”

On insight:

“If there’s one thing I love about writing more than the rest, it’s that sudden flash of insight when you see how everything connects.”

On sharing fresh writing too soon:

“…you must be cautious and give yourself a chance to think while the story is still like a field of freshly fallen snow, absent of any tracks save your own.”

And after all that:

“…my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of a writer is to give them a place to grow…”

Search Blogger on Books and Blogger on Books II for my thoughts on other books recently read that I felt motivated to say something about.

As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, are okay, lifting content (words, images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright. 

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