Five Things - Stephen King's On Writing


Five Things I Learned From: Stephen King’s On Writing

After I read Stephen King’s On Writing, I grabbed a copy of the audiobook. I really liked that he narrated it himself. It was like I was sitting on a porch in the summer listening to him reminisce and give sage advice.

On Writing is not a systematic treatise on writing, but it is an excellent tool. In the first section of the book, Mr. King shares his experiences and memories. And through them, you can see where his colorful characters come from. You can also learn where some of his dark or scary situations come from.

In the second two sections of the book, his advice is more explicit. For example, don't work too much on improving your vocabulary. Use the words you know.

Mr. King has written a great number of books and I have enjoyed many of them. It's ironic that my favorite book from him is non-fiction.

1. WE ALL START AT THE BEGINNING

It’s daunting to look at someone who is so successful at his craft that movie adaptations of his books have earned over two-and-a-half billion dollars. I’m not saying that that is why I write, I am still learning the craft right now. However, when I see someone so successful, I wonder why I even consider writing.

But, through On Writing, I learned that Mr. King is mortal. He struggled. He was rejected by publishers. I even found myself crying when he wrote about selling the rights to "Carrie" and buying a hair-dryer for his wife because it was the nicest thing he could find at the store. Even the most successful writer must start at the beginning.

2. READ AND WRITE - A LOT!

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut” (p. 145).

“It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on the subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that” (p. 147).

3. CONSTRUCT YOUR TOOLBOX.

“I want to suggest that to write to you best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work” (p. 114).

Mr. King explains that we should all have a toolbox. It should include things like vocabulary, grammar and paragraph structure. I love the idea of creating a “toolbox.” It is something that I’ve been working on since I first read On Writing.

4. AVOID ADVERBS

“I believe that the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops” (p. 125).

The most quoted maxim I’ve heard about writing is “show, don’t tell.” The second most quoted maxim I’ve heard is “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” I can blame Mr. King for my constantly looking at dialogue attribution to make sure that authors are not engaging in sacrilege.

5. CREATE YOUR SUPPORT STRUCTURE

“Tabby never voiced a single doubt […]. Her support was a constant, one of the few good things I could take as a given. And whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. 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 usually enough” (p. 74).


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