Sunday, March 15, 2009

On Writing by Stephen King

First published in 2000.

In this master class on the craft of writing, Stephen King reveals the origins of his vocation and shares essential habits and rules that every writer can apply. A truly unique volume, it begins with a series of telling memories from youth and the struggling years leading up to publication of King’s first novel. Offering readers a fresh and often funny perspective on the formation of a writer’s character, King lays out the tools of writer’s craft and takes the reader through aspects of the writer’s art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character to work habits and rejection. Brilliantly structured and chock-full of master’s experience and advice, On Writing will enable the work of writers around the globe. (from

How I could kick my own butt for taking so long to read this. What a wonderful book on the craft and, really, there wasn’t all that much to it. Not really. Not compared to the multitude of other books on writing.

King takes a different approach to “dictating” how one might be able to write and, I have to say, it gave me a different outlook on my writing blog and is one of the reasons I decided to incorporate more of myself and fewer “lessons” on writing. Because, really, there are no hard and fast rules (something I already knew) but what use does it do to teach others what really only works for me? Most of it, at least.

What I got from the book is that the events surrounding his writing, the places he worked, the people he met, the ears he got lanced, helped to mold his writing better than anything else. When he talked about his work experiences, I was able to immediately pinpoint certain stories of his to those experiences. Not to mention I was laughing my ass off at certain points. The man has a talent for dry wit that I just love, even when talking about getting hit by that van.

I loved his door closed, door open aspect and I realized that he and I really have very similar writing styles (if only I wrote up to that quality). My first draft is always done behind a closed door. I wouldn’t dream of having anyone look at it before I’m ready to release it. After that, all bets are off and I need outside eyes to help me improve. He’s the same way, albeit he has to deal with the insertion of life just like everyone else. His wife, Tabby, isn’t going to fix a broken pipe herself. Hell, neither would I.

The rest of his writing tips resonate with bits and pieces of advice I’ve collected over the years: omit needless words, stab adverbs and so on. I really like his (that he got from someone else) 2nd draft = 1st draft - 10%. That’s a wonderful equation and I think, especially in my writing, it would apply fantastically. Although I could see it not working if people had a tendency to underwrite and were more of putter-inners, as King puts it.

I also like his veiled disdain for writers’ retreats. Sure they can be helpful, although it’d be in more of an experience way than in a writing way. Constant interjection from outside eyes into your work when it’s only the first draft can be detrimental, and just plain counter-productive. I firmly agree with him that the first draft is yours, should be written on your own grounds and not meant to be shared until you’re ready to share it. Not to mention should be written under your own terms as well. I don’t know about you but most of the time, forced writing doesn’t work and when I go back to edit, that forced piece of writing usually ends up on a crumpled piece of paper in my trash. These writer retreats, all they do is force you to write, lock you in a room and you’re not allowed to come out until a certain time. I just don’t have that kind of attention span. I don’t know about you. I agree with King when he says if you want to do it, do it. He (and I) are always up for new experiences. Who knows, maybe it is an ideal writing place for some people. I know I would go batty.

This is something that every writer, and every fan of Stephen King, should read. His writing is pretty simplistic but he has a way with words that make even the simplest sentences sound amazing. I have a hard time figuring out why people consider him a hack. But even though he’s elevated to writing saint status by many people, seeing his unedited first drafts in this book is a refreshing realization that he’s human and writes just as unkempt first drafts as the rest of us. I saw it with my own eyes.

Read this. Read this now. You won’t regret it. Unless you’re not a Stephen King fan. And to that I ask, why not?


Anonymous said...

Excellent book. I winced at the story of his midnight visits to the doctor to have his ears checked at. Truly horrific stuff. The book is a must for any writer, novice or published.

DeSeRt RoSe said...

Sounds interesting.. I'll have to give it a try .. I love Stephen King!!

Donna said...

I don't think you can go wrong with King. You really can't.

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