Stephen King has written over fifty best-sellers in his time as an author, and while he’s renowned for his fiction, one of my favorite books he has written is the non-fiction book titled On Writing. The first part of the book is about how he came to be a writer, while the second half goes on to talk about the actual craft of writing.
The first half of the book provides stories of his childhood, stories of his mishaps in high school, stories of his entrance into the writing world, emotional stories of success, and most importantly, stories of the things he learned the most from; failures.
When King turned in his first newspaper article to John Gould, the editor of the paper in Lisbon, upon editing Stephens draft, John says to Stephen:
“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
I thought that was a beautiful way to look at writing fiction; as two people doing one job. It makes the process seem like teamwork, when all you’re doing is writing things the voice in your head is saying, but when said the way Gould puts it, makes it seem like something greater. King speaks more on Gould here, where he also brings up the “Village vomit,” a newspaper he wrote himself that would wind up getting himself into trouble in school. I found this early failure quite entertaining.
This book doesn’t spend long on grammar, surprising for a book on writing right? King breaks down writing with a metaphorical toolbox that all writers should have. In this toolbox, every writer should have at least three shelves, and only the first consist of grammar and vocabulary. I like this because I have been out of school for over five years, and I haven’t taken an English class in about ten. So, while I can write a sentence that can be easily understood, I can no longer break apart and define each part of this sentence as I once could’ve. In short, quick and painless was the section of grammar.
King goes on to describe his schedule, something I desperately need to boost my writing consistency. He says that when he is writing, he is writing every day, and sets a goal of at least 2,000 words, and the door he shuts when entering his writing room doesn’t reopen until those words have hit the page in their entirety.
“If I don’t write everyday, the characters begin to stale off in my mind–they begin to seem like characters instead of real people.”
I’ve started multiple stories that I haven’t finished, and I believe this quote explains why. My characters have staled, they have become stories, and I am unable to tell myself the story because the story is no longer real to me. Consistency has always been a problem for me mostly because my schedule changes by the week: Some weeks I’ll work all mornings, and some weeks I won’t get off work until midnight or later. So finding a concrete time to write, as Stephen recommends, presents a problem.
The piece of advise I find most helpful is about writing what you know. It’s something I’ve always done because it flows the easiest, things don’t seem forced, and I can sit back and tell myself the story.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is actively pursuing a career in writing. It breaks down a schedule for you to follow, gives you vital information on writing and getting into the world of selling, and is an amazing insight into the early life of Stephen King.