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On Writing Stephen King’s Way

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:

  1. On vocabulary: Use the first word that comes to your mind if it’s appropriate and colorful
  2. 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.
  3. 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. (more…)

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