I have a love-hate relationship with books about writing. I have read quite a few books on writing – both novels and screenplays. While there have been times where the information in these books have really helped me to improve my writing, I have also found these types of books tend to stifle my creativity as I become far too focused on getting everything perfect based on what these books are telling me and therefore often lose touch with the bigger picture.
What makes Stephen King’s On Writing such a great book is that it doesn’t overwhelm the reader with rules. Instead, King acknowledges that there isn’t a whole lot he can teach us and approaches everything with a sense of flexibility. However, King also does offer plenty of golden advice that aspiring writers can learn from. I can see the improvement in my own writing after reading this book – which is all you can ask for.
The book is split up into two main sections, the first section is more of an autobiography, giving a detailed account of his younger years and the struggles leading up to getting his first novel (Carrie) published. The second half of the book concentrates on the craft and writing advice from King himself.
In my mind, if you are going to take writing advice from anyone there are few options better than Stephen King – a writer who has sold over 350 million books and is regarded as one of the most successful authors of our time.
The following are three insights from the book that I related with and found helpful.
1) Door Closed, Door Open
This piece of advice revolves around the various drafts you will naturally undertake when writing.
King suggests approaching the first draft with the doors closed. What he means here is that your first draft should be written for yourself. You should be telling yourself the story as you are writing rather trying to please an external audience.
He then goes on to say that the second draft should be crafted with the doors open. At this point you receive feedback and remove anything that you may have included in the story which isn’t really the story.
2) Paragraphs as building blocks
This is a simple piece of advice but I had never actually heard it before I read the book. King says that you should think of paragraphs as the building blocks of your story. You construct each paragraph with a defining purpose and then concentrate on using each paragraph to build a bigger picture. He also suggests using the technique of starting each paragraph with a sentence that overviews the entire thing and then expanding on that first sentence in the rest of the paragraph.
Since reading the book, I have tried applying this to my own writing and I have found that thinking about/using paragraphs in this way has really helped me to add structure and clarity to my writing. Thanks Stephen King!
3) Write everyday
The fact you should be writing everyday might be slightly obvious and advice that you may have heard before but the reasoning Stephen King gives for writing every day is what made this point interesting to me.
He says that if you are not writing every day you will quickly lose touch with the characters and plot of your story. I was thinking about this in relation to the work I have done in the past and it makes perfect sense. I have always found it difficult to finish what I start because my original spark of an idea – the characters and story that I have decided to create – tend to get lost over time and the process becomes stale for me. This insight opened my eyes to the fact that I am not writing with enough intensity or consistency which is one of the reasons I have found it difficult to produce results.
These are just three of the many golden nuggets of advice contained within Stephen King’s On Writing. The book has provided a lot of value to me as an aspiring writer and I would most certainly recommend this book for other writers out there. You can get the book here.
Also published on Medium.