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On Writing - Stephen King
Member Name: MichelleScott
On Writing - Stephen King
Date: 22/04/02, updated on 15/06/05 (1524 review reads)
Advantages: Excellent book - see review
Disadvantages: Couldn't find any
I could waffle on for thousands of words about 'On Writing' and Stephen King but if you haven't got the time or inclination to wade through to the end of this review, just read this bit: if you want to be a writer, READ THIS BOOK. I?m almost tempted to stop there (almost, but not quite!), as I don?t feel any review can do it justice.
I have never been a Stephen King fan, as I?m not into horror and thought that was all he wrote. When I came home from the library carrying this book, my husband saw the name of the author and gasped in dismay, wondering how he was going to cope with my nightmares after reading a Stephen King horror (he?s read a few). He was very relieved to learn it was book about writing.
This is a well-written book, packed with interest, information and advice. One of the best snippets I liked (which I have put on a card by my computer) is about writing courses : ?It is the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster?s shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters.? Classic.
He doesn?t slate other books on writing (well, not all of them anyway), and recommends ?The Elements of Style? by William Strunk Jr & E.B. White
King has a few themes/golden rules that he has stuck by and which have brought him success. These condense down to:
1. Read a lot - obvious really, but he goes into great detail about why in a much more convincing way than I could cover here.
2. Write a lot - if you want to be a runner, you run. Want to be a writer, don?t talk about it, just do it.
3. Edit ruthlessly - take out unnecessary words, especially adverbs and remember this magic formula :
2nd draft = 1st draft - 10% (advice given to him by a publisher)
He gives his C.V. (obviously it was an edited British version of this book I managed to get hold of, us being too thick to understand what Resume means), meaning a bit of his life story and how he got into writing. He has one brother
and was brought up by a single-parent mother. She sounded quite a character. It wasn?t a rich childhood in terms of money but he packed in a lot of experience - and a lot of reading and writing, thanks to childhood illnesses (and a horrific run-in with a doctor with a large needle - don?t read it if you are squeamish).
He has more than a tentative grasp of the English language. Firstly because he was well-educated, secondly because he was an English teacher and thirdly (and most importantly) because he has a tangible LOVE of language.
As a young, sick, housebound child, he liked to copy out stories from his comics, changing/improving them as he did so. He showed one to his mother, who initially thought he had written it himself and was disappointed to learn he hadn?t. Her response? ?Write one of your own Stevie.? A suggestion that was, years later, to change publishing history. King?s reaction was ?an immense feeling of POSSIBILITY at the idea, as if I had been ushered into a vast building filled with closed doors and had been given leave to open any I liked. There were more doors than a person could ever open in a lifetime.? What a great approach to writing - and possibly the reason why he loves his craft so much and is so prolific.
Incidentally, King?s mother lived to see his first novel, Carrie, published - just. A copy (which had been read to her, she was too ill by that time to read herself) was on the night-stand when she died.
He isn?t wild about television. The family didn?t get one until he was 11, so he didn?t grow up goggle-eyed. He says, about that, ?I am a member of a fairly select group: the final handful of American novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bullshit.? Never afraid to call a spade a f**king spade, is our Stephen. He has a good explanation for that, too, which I don?t have space to go into here or I?ll end up just quoting most of the book.
He started writing short stories and submitting them to sci-fi and mystery magazines. He kept a spike full of pink rejection slips. One slip had a particularly curt comment scribbled on it: ?Don?t staple manuscripts. Loose pages plus paperclip = correct way to submit copy.? He called that advice cold but useful. He did get a more helpful one, though, which he said brightened his winter: ?This is good. Not for us, but good. You have talent. Submit again.? He says that after he was published as a novelist, and getting some publicity, he submitted the same stories to some of those magazines again. Curiously, they accepted them then!
He takes the mystique out of the writing business, without dumbing it down. Actually, I was surprised at his intellect, and his ability to convey complex things in a highly understandable way.
It wouldn?t be too much of an exaggeration to say that reading this book has changed my life. I have been suffering from an extended period of writer?s block, due to illness. Since reading this, I have begun writing again. Yay! This is partly because the book is encouraging, understandable and easy to read (and it made me feel NORMAL for probably the first time - I?m not mad, I?m a writer!), but also because he goes into some detail of the bad accident he had in 1999 and his recovery. It was hard for him to start writing again, it didn?t come easily. ?The first 500 words were uniquely terrifying - I stepped from one word to the next like a very old man finding his way across a stream on a zigzag line of wet stones. There was no inspiration only a kind of stubborn determination and the hope that things would get better if I kept at it.?
He was in pain as well. His injuries were horrific (as someone who has had a horrific road accident, I have some idea what he means) and it was hard just to sit up. Yet he finished this book to encourage others to write! What a guy. I have new respect for him and not a little gratitude. This
book isn?t just for wannabe writers, it is a good read for anyone.
PS - not all his books are scary horror-fests. Worth checking out in the library - there are 35 of them so far.
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