King On Writing
Okay. A friend who knows I’m a writer, lent me Stephen King’s book On Writing. I hadn’t asked for it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. I did though. And I got a few pointers out of it. I’ll share the best two in this post. King wrote it as much about his life story as it is his tips on writing. Yes, he knows his stuff. He’s successful. But most of the things I read in the writing part, not the memoir part, I already knew and had learned from other sources.
But each author or teacher of writing brings their unique way of saying things to the project. There were a few tidbits I came away with from King’s book. It was mainly the way he said things. Everyone is different.
On page 57, he states, “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story…when you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.” He attributes that to his sports editor at the time, John Gould. He goes on to say that Gould told him writing is like a closed door/open door. The door is closed when you first write the story, then you open it for rewrites. “Your stuff starts out being just for you in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right–as right as you can anyway–it belongs to anyone who wants to read it.”
King talks of continuing to write even ( in other words, the adage “Keep writing” that I’ve heard more times than I can count ) when it’s hard, and making sure your writer’s toolbox has everything it needs to help you succeed. He mentions vocabulary, grammar, and the use of active verbs as important tools in your toolbox. And–adverbs are not your friend. Use them sparingly.
The best tidbit: his formula for rewrites. 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%. I’ve had to edit Meghan’s Choice a lot more than 10% in order to enter it into various contests. I did end up adding a couple thousand words back in so that I could expand a minor character’s role just a bit. Because I liked him–maybe I’ll talk about Jackson sometime.
That’s the writing part. The first third of the book, at least, is his life story, and how he became a writer. He didn’t know his father. His mother worked hard at blue collar jobs. He and his brother were somewhat trouble makers in their quest to have fun, yet do what they loved doing. He ends the book talking about being hit by a van in 1999 while walking along a road, when he nearly died. He seems to have recuperated well from it.
All in all, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to learn about writing. I didn’t like the profanity, I never do. I don’t think, even if it is your personality, that it belongs in writing, just as it doesn’t belong in movies and television. I’m a Christian writer. We know ways to get around that without having to be graphic, and our readers get the picture.
I’ve already shared many resources on writing I’ve purchased for writing classes I’ve taken. I have a few up my sleeve yet that I haven’t yet shared from. But give me time.
King’s book is just what he says it is: a memoir that happens to talk a little about some of the basics he knows about writing. So take that into consideration should you decide to purchase it. If you’re a Christian, I don’t recommend it. If you aren’t, and profanity doesn’t bother you, you may appreciate hearing his life story.
If I were doing an actual review of this book, I’d probably rate it 2-1/2 stars. A little less than okay, but not horrible…it’s not the writing, it’s the content.
Maybe I’ll talk about Jackson next week. I put him on my calendar, so I won’t forget. I really like that guy.
Thanks for posting this, Donna. I picked up On Writing several years ago and I agree with most of your points. There are more detailed craft books out there that the left (analytical) side of the brain will appreciate. For me, King’s book gives a shot of encouragement to the right (creative) side of the brain. I appreciate his down-to-earth point of view and I can imagine King saying these things to me over a cup of coffee. We all need different things at different times; our journeys are unique.
Looking forward to hearing about Jackson.
I appreciate this post, Donna. It helped me remember why I got rid of my copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s been brought up to me in some things I’ve read recently as a good source of writing advice, but after reading this post, I know why I no longer have it. I, too, find no reason for inappropriate language in books. I also remember thinking there wasn’t a lot of “meat” about writing in the book, and I agree that there are many other great writing resources where we can get the same information as well as more. I, myself, like books on writing by James Scott Bell.