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Stephen King Has One of the Top Books On Writing: Read It

abstract:Notes on “Stephen King's "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”

There are plenty of books on writing, but few are any good. Stephen King may not write the genre of book you like to read, but his success at selling books and having several of those books adapted to feature films that have been box office success is a powerful reason to explore his book on the writing craft as worthy a peek.

Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (published by Random House) begins with a history of his childhood, his family background, his high school mishaps, his first jobs, his college experience, how he met his future wife, his first years of marriage and as a parent, his work as a teacher while writing fiction in his spare time, his first published work and his first big payment from his publisher. This is the memoir part of the book, and there are lots of insights embedded inside which will resonate with readers, particularly people who enjoy his books. This is what makes Stephen King tick. The second half is all about Stephen's rules of writing - the meat of it.

It slams you with a confession


September 11, 2017
— of the years he was literally wasted on alcohol and drugs, and the family intervention that put him back on track to sobriety. Then it eases you into Stephen King’s writing rules and gives examples of bad and good sentences; things he loves and hates, and recommendations for getting the end result you desire.

He uses the example of an uncle who was a carpenter and the tool box he carried to work as a metaphor for writers to keep their tools in order: the writer’s most important tools--vocabulary and grammar are kept in the top drawer, other tools are stored further down in successive order of importance.

Stephen hates adverbs. He likens them to dandelions growing in your lawn; one is OK but without the attention, they can flourish and before you know it your lawn is a mess of weeds. In dialogue he admonishes: “To write adverbs is human; to use ‘he said’ ‘she said’ is divine.” He hates the passive voice in general. He thinks you should use the first word that comes to mind, as it is likely the best word for the job. Like all good writers, he lives by the words in Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style”.

Stephen King must be a passionate guy. He talks about the passion in his life, emotions like love, hate, and remorse. I love this line, “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome, to tell a story… Writing is seduction.” POW, REPEAT. Writing is seduction. It’s listening “to the beat in your head” that is based on what you hear. King feels that the paragraph—not the sentence—is the basic unit of writing.

He talks about writing rigor. Virginia Wolfe talked about “a room of one’s own” and every writer commits to this. Stephen thinks that a peaceful environment with a door to keep you inside and everything else out, plus 2,000 words a day, are what to shoot for. That translates to 10 pages a day which will amount to an average sized book of 180,000 words in about 3 months or one calendar season. On a good day, he’s completed his day’s work by 11 am and is out the door doing errands. He reserves re-writing for later in the day and pleasure reading for the night. The best writers are good readers. He reads around 80 books a year of other people’s fiction.



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