Read This: On Writing by Stephen King

Monday, September 7, 2015

The joys of reading an author writing about writing were revealed to me when I read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and loved it. So, I was itching to get my hand on a copy of Stephen King's book, which so many other authors had recommended reading in the FAQ section of their websites. I've never read any King, because I am SUCH a scaredy cat when it comes to all things horror. (Embarrassing, yes. But I'll have nightmares for weeks that are no joke!) So, I was a tad hesitant to even read this book but I scary can writing be? :)

Stephen King approached this book in a completely different way than Lamott approached hers. Whereas Lamott's mixed writing advice and life advice all at once (and contained beautiful metaphors), King split things up. The first chunk of the book (labeled C.V.) reads like a memoir (which I loved! See here, here, and here for proof of my memoir obsession).

King had a fascinating childhood and is (duh) a very good storyteller so his childhood/early writer and recovering alcoholic stories flew by. The origin story of Carrie, his first successful book, is incredible. (Hint: his wife is a pivotal player in getting him to write the book that ultimately launched his career.)

Then comes a section entitled "Toolbox" where he talks about assembling your writer's tool box filled with things like vocabulary ("the bread of all writing") and grammar, and elements of style (for which he highly recommends this book by Strunk and White).

Grammar tips from King range from relatively basic "avoid the passive tense" to hilarious "I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs" (especially adverbs that attribute dialogue.)

Once he's covered the necessary tools, King moves onto the most lengthy part of his book: On Writing. He delves into things from dialogue to plot to character to theme to writing method. One of my favorite parts of the book is King pulls examples from all different kinds of books, so you can dissect different writer's choices.

A few favorite parts:

"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."

King says he writes 2000 words a day, and recommends new writers start with at least 1000 words a day, and can take one day off a week. 

King compares writing fiction to extracting a fossil from the earth. The story is there you just need to patiently find it. He very much prefers character-driven not plot-driven stories. He says using plot to get your story is like using a jackhammer to get your fossil. Sure, you'll get it, but it won't be pretty. Personally, I love this analogy. He is very anti-outline, thinking you should listen to your characters above all else, and I am finding this to be true for me in my writing as well. (And consistent with what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird.)

Overall, I felt like I learned SO much from reading this book, and this review (obviously) just grazed the surface. If you are an aspiring writer: read this book! And let me know what you think :)

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