Twenty One Things I Learned from Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing 

Book 1/50, 2014

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

As Jan 1, 2014 came and went, I decided to do a fifty book challenge; that is, to read fifty books this year. I may have done this in the past, but I’ve never kept track before, so there’s no way of knowing. My friend and writing ‘partner’ Kristi gifted me Stephen King’s On Writing for my thirtieth birthday, so I decided to start the year off with, as Time magazine states: one of the top 100 non fiction books of all time. This book did not disappoint. King’s On Writing is a fascinating and educational memoir of his life and his craft. Aspiring writer or not, everyone should read this book.

I wanted to highlight 90% of the book. That being said, I felt that so much of what King wrote applied to me. I’m sure other readers are inspired by tips beyond the ones I listed below, depending on their own strengths and weaknesses in writing. That’s the beauty of this book: King reaches everyone. Here are just some of the highlights I found useful:

  1. Write a lot, and read a lot. (P.285)
  2. … You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water to life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.” (P.270)
  3. If it works, fine. If it doesn’t, toss it. Toss it even if you love it. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch once said, “Murder your darlings,” and he was right. (P. 197)
  4. And if you do your job, your characters will come to life and start doing stuff on their own. (P.195)
  5. The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images with simple vocabulary. (P. 179)
  6. Description should begin in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s. (P.174)
  7. For me, what happens to characters as a story progresses depends solely on what I discover about them as I go along– how they grow, in other words…every character you create is partly you. (P. 190-191)
  8. Practice the art, always reminding yourself that your job is to say what you see, and then get on with your story. (P. 180)
  9. You can only learn by doing. (P. 173)
  10. … There is a difference between story and plot. Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest. (P.170)
  11. And why worry about the ending anyway? Why be such a control freak? Sooner or later every story comes out somewhere.  (P.165)
  12. …Stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech. (P.163)
  13. Plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible… the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course). (P. 163)
  14. When the reader hears strong echoes of his or her own life and beliefs, he or she is apt to become more invested in the story. (P. 160)
  15. What would be very wrong, I think, is to turn away from what you know and like, in favor of things you believe will impress your friends, relatives, and writing circle colleagues. (P.159)
  16. … The job of fiction is to find the truth inside the story’s web of lies, not to commit intellectual dishonesty in the hunt for the buck. (P.159)
  17. I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. (P. 155)
  18. Resolve yourself that the door stays closed until [that] goal is met. (P.156)
  19. The adverb is not your friend. (P.124)
  20. Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colourful. (P.118)
  21. …to write is human, to edit is divine. (Pg. x)

As for the memoir portion of his book, King starts off by telling readers about his life and his challenges. His continues to sprinkle his personal stories throughout the book, but I won’t give anything away by telling you the aspects I found most intriguing. What I will say is that King has led a captivating life from day one.

But I guess those who don’t have personal, inspiring stories to tell very rarely write best sellers.

And good story telling, well, that’s divine.

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