Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On Writing by Stephen King (an unreview)

Title: On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner, 2000, Hardcover, 288 pages


I have just finished reading On Writing by Stephen King. I enjoyed it immensely - he came across so unpretentious and likable, not to mention all the wisdom about writing that's in it. I'm not going to write a proper review, just list some things from the book that I want to remember:

1. In order to be a good writer you have to read a lot and write a lot.

2. He wrote his books by setting a 2000 word limit per day. Most of his books took about three months to write.

3. He calls his way of plotting "situational", i.e. his stories usually start when he envisions a potential character in a situation. He doesn't outline or plot, but rather lets his characters develop as they react and interact in that situation. He asks "what if..." a lot. He stresses honesty and letting your characters be and become who they are.

4. He talks about the story developing as if one had found a bit of fossil. Telling the story is digging out that fossil.

5. His work ethic is incredible. But one gets the feeling it's not entirely a work ethic -- but a play ethic. He loves writing, believes he was destined to be a writer and couldn't have been anything else.

6. Here are some quotes from the book:
"The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better." p. 269

"Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. In the end it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work and enriching your own life as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy." p. 269

The book is in three parts:

Part 1- he calls his C.V. It's his growing up years and the trace of his experience as a kid, then student, and older, looking back and seeing all the evidences of his destiny as a writer as they played out.

Part 2 - his beliefs about writing and all the practical things he shares from his experience as a writer. Early on in that section he introduces the idea of a toolbox. That is essentially what he shares in that section - his views on story, plot, character, dialogue, symbol, theme, getting an agent, etc. etc.

Part 3 - tells what was going on in his personal life while he wrote the book (the middle craft part). He wrote the first part and then in self-doubt put the ms. aside for a while. In this last part he also shows how he edits his own work by quoting a partial first draft of a story and shows that same segment edited. Finally, he answers the question that people continually ask - 'What do you read?' by listing recent favorite novels he's read in the last 3-4 years ('recent' as in 2000 and before).

Reading his book has inspired me to simply spend more time writing. I've spent too much time spinning my wheels on the internet. I'd like to build up my writing muscle to do some steady and uninterrupted writing each day. He talks about the time the writer writes with the door closed as a time of creative dreaming or sleep. You block out distractions and interruptions as you would if you were physically sleeping. He suggests starting for an amount one could realistically write, and building up writing stamina as a runner conditions for longer and longer runs.

More excerpts from On Writing.

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