Tuesday, November 2, 2010

On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing by Stephen King

Hardcover, Published 2000, 297 pages.

Recommended by my old writing professor, I picked up On Writing at the public library. It's the first book I've read by Stephen King, and not the last! I actually picked up The Green Mile today.

The book is split into three parts. The first is an autobiographical part. I wished I knew more about his books and his work, I'm sure more of his stories would have resonated with me. I may have said, "So that's where he got that idea!" It was still a delight to read about how he developed as a writer: first submitting short stories to magazines, slowly working his way up, getting married, having kids, and publishing Carrie first.

The second part is the actual writing part. It doesn't read like an instructional manual, but a conversation with one of our age's most prolific writers. I enjoyed this part, of course.

The last, third part was a small bit about a car accident King was involved in the middle of writing his book. He had some horrible injuries to his hip and legs and was confined to a wheelchair for a couple months, and he talks about how writing brought some pleasantness back into his life.

I'd definitely recommend this book to any and all writers! I made a small list of the main points he made in the middle section.

1) Read a lot. Read a lot of books as often as you can. My goal this year was 50 books, and I've read 46. Next year, I'm going to aim for 75. He also convinced me to pick up some audiobooks. Standing in the library today looking at books on CD, I felt awkward. When I'm finished, can I say I've read them? I haven't really. . .I haven't ran my fingers along the words, my wrists haven't ached with trying to figure out how to hold the book late at night in bed, I haven't folded the corners of the pages on my saved spots. But you know what? It's just a different way to take in a story. And I figure it will be best for certain literary styles that are hard for me to get into. I have some driving each week that I can fill with audiobooks. To start off, I picked up Fight Club and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, two books that have been on my "to read" list for a long time. Now they're on my "to listen" list.

2) Write a lot. Practice, practice, practice. King said one of the only ways to see if something works is to write and see. I definitely agree with this. Writing classes have their purpose, but from when I started writing Roswell fanfiction at 13 to my first finished novel at 21, I really believe that the hundreds of short stories, novels, and essays that I wrote (most of them never to be seen by anyone other than me) were the backbone of my progress. He suggested writing the same amount of words everyday at the same time. My writing time is going to be after lunch, and I'm going to write at least 1,000 words. Second day of my goal, and I've already failed, but it's next on my to do list.

3) Most adverbs are unnecessary. A mark of the untrained writer, most adverbs can be removed from the story without real trouble.

4) He said/she said is divine. My problem is I use it too much.

5) Don't get fancy with vocab.

6) Get rid of the passive voice.

7) Write every day. I mentioned this already, but it's important, and I need to do it.

8) Write your first draft with the door closed. Don't let anyone read it. Their interruptions can disrupt your creative process. Write your second draft with the door open, doing research and thinking about the readers.

9) 2nd Draft = 1st Draft - 10% Cut what you can to speed the story along. I think Nanowrimo novelists do the opposite of this. They get to 50,000 words and realize they are far from the "Novel." Don't add more junk, get rid of what is unnecessary.

10) The main question with theme is "What is the story about?" All stories deal with a basic theme, it doesn't have to be something amazing.

11) Tell the truth, even if it offends. King repeated it often: a writer's job is to be honest about life, even if it is crude, racist, violent, etc. I struggle with this because I want to honor God with my writing, but I do want to be honest about human nature. I also have lots of proper family members and younger siblings, and I think about them sometimes as I'm writing a questionable scene (yesterday, in The Second Generation, a 22-year-old was forced to kill someone to save his friend, and I kept thinking about my 13-year-old sister who gobbled up my last story. To be honest, I will probably ask my mom to read it first and approve it for her).

12) Read your market. If you're going to submit to a magazine or publisher, read their material to see if your stuff works. I don't do this often enough, I just send out my stories to people who seem all right.

Those were the main points I wrote down last night at 12:45am after I finished the book. Check it out!

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