My goal most of last year was to read a writing craft book, and Stephen King's On Writing came up time and time again. I had never read anything by King, but figured an author who had written over 50 books and sold millions must have something important to say. Because I’m easily terrified, King's books were never at the top of my to be read list. He is now, for many reasons.
To start, I love the way his words seem to convey meaning with such ease. As I was reading about his background and approach to writing, I felt like I was sitting next to him on the front porch while he talked. His childhood was by no means easy, and he points out the effect it had on his writing. If I was a betting woman, I’d say this book only scratches the surface of stories Stephen King could tell you about his younger years.
But I didn’t read this book to find out more about Stephen King. I wanted to find out more about his process as a writer. Turns out, his advice is simple but crucial: writers need to read, and read a lot, and they need to write. His suggestion: write 1,000 words a day. King states that he writes every day except for Christmas and his birthday, but quickly admits to writing even then. Every single day. It’s a way of life for him. Even after his near-fatal accident, he was back to writing, might even say it saved him.
He also emphasizes the need to understand and use correct grammar and punctuation. He illustrates this by defining the essential tools in a writer’s toolbox: vocabulary and grammar (he recommends The Elements of Style by Strunk and White several times). I completely agree. Too often, a good story is overshadowed by horrible editing. At the end of the book he gives an example of a piece and his edits. I will be referring to it often.
King said what I needed to hear to kickstart my 2012 writing, but don’t read this for specific examples on how to be a better writer. His second foreword clears that up right away: “This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do—not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad.”
I’ll admit, I might be a bit biased about this book. King declares, “You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer—my answer, anyway—is nowhere. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible.” I try to plot, truly I do, but I find myself drawn to just writing and seeing where the story leads me. King’s words comforted me—I have to be the writer I am.
I’ll leave you with King’s words, “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”
I highly recommend this book to several groups: people who love a good story, King devotees, and writers looking for a kick in the butt, old-school style.
What craft book made you want to be a better writer?