ON WRITING // STEPHEN KING

stephen king // on writing

I figured I could learn a thing or two from Stephen King’s book On WritingI did, and also I’m just interested in Stephen King as a person and was curious to see what this book was all about. It’s definitely a book for writers and aspiring writers.

Even though I went to journalism school, and somehow got through grammar classes and a semester of writing for the local newspaper (I hated every moment of it) I write like I talk and a I only write about what I know.

I honestly can’t imagine writing fiction. Sometimes I have crazy dreams and I’ll type them up — but I know that I’ll never do anything with them. I know I’ll never turn any of the concepts into a fiction novel. I’m better at just telling you what has happened to me and how it made me feel or what I’ve done and how I did it.

So here’s a bit of what I gleaned from On Writing:
(Italics are excerpts from the book.)

Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. If you hesitate and cogitate, you will come up with another word—of course you will, there’s always another word—but it probably won’t be as good as your first one, or as close to what you really mean.

I guess I’ll think twice about using thesaurus.com…

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

I totally agree with this and it makes me think of this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert and the idea coming over the hill. Watch it an you’ll know what I mean. I personally think ideas come to you at the most random times, and usually when you aren’t trying to hard to think about them.

The realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.

To me, this is the difference between people who succeed and people who don’t. You have to keep going even when it’s hard.

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

Hoping that this is true for me. The past few years I’ve really amped up my reading, and while I assume it’s making me a better writer, I do know that it’s making me a more critical reader. I already was one just because of journalism school, but now when I read bad writing it’s really annoying to me.

The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story…to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all.

Yes, yesssss! That’s my favorite feeling — to get so wrapped up in a story I have no idea how long I’ve been reading!

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

I never thought of myself as a writer. Although maybe I should have seen it coming. When I was young I would type of stories on my grandma’s typewriter (I loved that thing) and illustrate them. In middle school we had this job day thing and I wanted to be the newspaper editor. I did get “the job” and I’m pretty sure I sucked at it. Then I went to journalism school…um pattern much? But I actually just don’t think I’m that great of a writer, so hopefully reading and writing all the time will help me get better. You can let me know in a few years…

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. 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.

I’m all about using every moment to read. Wrote about it in this post. Glad Stephen King agrees with me.

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. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think this is fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist (what I get out of mine is mostly surly grunts, unless he’s on duty), but he’s got the inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know.

I just liked King’s description of a muse.

Omit Needless Words.

Feel like I learned this lesson a little when I was reading a series of Ernest Hemingway books since Hemingway was all about only using necessary words.

One of the cardinal rules of good fiction is never tell us a thing if you can show us.

I think this sentence is just a really helpful thing to keep in mind as a writer. You want to transport your reader somewhere, not just tell them everything. Let them discover it for themselves!

If those few tidbits from the book didn’t make you want to read it then it’s not for you, but I definitely thought it was a worthwhile read.

If you’ve read it, let me know your thoughts!