Having just finished On Writing, Stephen King’s memoir of the craft, his nearly final words— before And furthermore—at first seem to encapsulate the book’s purpose: ‘Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.” |
Even though this captures King’s emotional tie to writing, a tie that helped him recover from a near-fatal accident, this doesn’t seem very much like the man I met in this book. King doesn’t come across as a poet; instead, he seems to be a rather coarse guy; prone to swear; clearly a person capable of conjuring up repulsive characters. But I learned to like him. I may even read a second SK novel—my first was 11/23/63, one I only read to compare his treatment of bygone time travel to my own.
What I appreciated most about this book on writing is its focus on honesty: writing truthfully—writing in ways that define your voice as distinct rather than a chorus of authoritative voices. That’s precisely what King models. He doesn’t just rise above the din of countless authors who’ve written eight or ten or 30 rules of writing. He cuts his own path. Maybe that’s why this book is called by The Plain Dealer “the best book on writing. Ever.”
What are the differences between Stephen King’s “rules of writing” and those I’ve read or heard at conferences and workshops? Here’s a few I highlighted:
- On vocabulary: Use the first word that comes to your mind if it’s appropriate and colorful
- On paragraphs: Let nature take its course–the turns and rhythms of the story dictating where each paragraph begins and ends. The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader feel welcome and then tell a story.
- On description: Good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else (your first visualized details will be the truest and the best). Figurative description—the use of similes and other figurative language—is one of the chief delights of reading and writing fiction.
- On a first draft: Don’t stop and don’t slow down unless you absolutely have to (or the characters will begin to seem like characters instead of real people). Once your basic story is on paper, you need to think about what it means and enrich your following drafts with your conclusions—the vision that makes each tale uniquely your own.
- On the second draft: Wait approximately six weeks, then go through your manuscript all at once, if possible, adding scenes and events that reinforce the meaning.
- On reviewers: Name the one person you write for your Ideal Reader (IR), the person who, in spirit, will be in your writing room all the time. When you finish your second draft, it’s time to let your IR (and maybe a half-dozen other people you know and respect) read and critique your work.
Do you use King’s way? If not, which of these six points might change your writing style from good to great? For me, writing that first draft BEFORE showing it to individuals or a critique group gives me relief—a way to let my work more honestly reflect my voice and vision.