So I recently read Stephen King’s memoir on writing (Stephen King/On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft). He has always been an author that’s intrigued me and after reading this book he does even more.
He’s an author of more than 50 books and all of them worldwide bestsellers. Not many authors can claim that. I thought that I would share a few things he said that spoke to me in his memoir. May I strongly suggest also, whether you’re a writer or just a fan to go pick this book up or order it online. It’s a must have.
From the King himself:
“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”
Although you’re the creator of your characters, they can actually teach you some unexpected things along the way. According to Stephen, Carrie White, his main character in the book, Carrie, was the one character that taught him things no other did.
“The most important is that the writer’s original perception of a character or characters may be as erroneous as the reader’s. Running a close second was the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a shitting position.”
“-…but I think you will find that, if you continue to write fiction, every character you create is partly you.”
“And if you do your job, your characters will come to life and start doing stuff on their own.”
Everything matters. Even where you place your writing desk.
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”
You have the honor of writing a book, which is what Mr. King calls, “uniquely portable magic.” However, that comes with a seriousness of the responsibility it holds.
“Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again; you must not come lightly to a blank page.”
“-it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.”
Words, Tense, Averbs…
“Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.”
“The word is only a representation of the meaning; even at its best, writing almost always falls short of the full meaning.”
“You should avoid passive tense.”
“The adverb is not your friend.”
Whether you’re a first time author or you’ve written a million books, there is still a small steady fear that whatever your writing is crap and you had no business being an author in the first place. That’s okay. Just don’t let it consume you the writing will be bad if it even gets written at all.
“I’m convinced that fear is the root of most bad writing.”
“Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as “good” and other sorts as “bad”, is fearful behavior. Good writing is also about making good choices when it comes to picking the tools you plan to work with.”
One of your must-have tools…Reading. You MUST read…without ceasing. Second, write. Anything…everything…just write.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
“You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”
“We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in order to experience the different styles.”
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”
“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like that phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor”
“Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world.”
Keep it fresh in your mind. Yes, some of us have other jobs, families, or responsibilities, but you MUST forge through with your writing and keep it going.
“Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind–they begin to seem like characters instead of real people. The tale’s narrative cutting edge starts to rust and I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace. Worst of all, the excitement of spinning something new begins to fade. The work starts to feel like work, and for most writers that is the smooch of death. Writing is at its best–always, always, always–when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer. I can write in cold blood if I have to, but I like it best when it’s fresh and almost too hot to handle.”
“For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction.”
“I am, after all, not just the novel’s creator but its first reader.”
Description is the essence for your reader. That skill does not come overnight to a writer.
“Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot.”
“Description begins with visualization of what it is you want the reader to experience. It ends with your translating what you see in your mind into words on the page.”
“If you want to be a successful writer, you must be able to describe it, and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition.”
“The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary.”
“Practice the art, always reminding yourself that your job is to say what you see, and then to get on with your story.”
“As with all other aspects of fiction, the key to writing good dialogue is honesty. And if you are honest about the words coming out of your character’s mouths, you’ll find that you’ve let yourself in for a fair amount of criticism.”
“You must tell the truth if your dialogue is to have the resonance and realism that Hart’s War, good story though it is, so sadly lacks–and that holds true all the way down to what folks say when they hit their thumb with a hammer. If you substitute “Oh sugar!” for “Oh shit!” because you’re thinking about the Legion of Decency, you are breaking the unspoken contract that exists between writer and reader–your promise to express the truth of how people act and talk through the medium of a made-up story.”
“Everything I’ve said about dialogue applies to building characters in fiction. The job boils down to two things: paying attention to how real people around you behave and then telling the truth about what you see.”
1st drafts…2nd drafts…and self doubt…
“I don’t believe a story or novel should be allowed outside the door of your study or writing room unless you feel confident that it’s reasonably reader-friendly.”
“With the door shut, downloading what’s in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes to my mind, only looking back to check the names of characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.”
For all writers, the act of writing is something extraordinary, a feat that cannot be put into exact words, a window that opens to endless possibilities if they can imagine it…
“Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”
“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”
“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.”
“Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink up and be filled.”