Book Babble #6: My take on… "On Writing" by Stephen King

in bookbabble •  last year  (edited)
“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing” ~ Stephen King

I'm sure this guy needs no introduction, so let's start with a classic quote of his above. On the power of persistence.

It's a chap who goes by the name of Mr Stephen King, calls himself a writer and along with all his tales of the macabre, has brought this little non-fiction nugget to help us along in our wordy craft. 

He is of course world renowned, hugely popular, and one of the biggest names out there in any field. As qualified as anyone to offer advice and this book could be said to be a 'bible' (or top 3 reference) for any writer.

This post is as much for myself as anything. As with most things I write, it’s selfishly for me but whatever affects me is bound to affect others, so hopefully these ramblings and insights can help you too.

It’s a while since I read this book and it appears that I haven’t highlighted any sections in my Kindle for some bizarre reason. There are a couple of main points I remember which I will share here and also piggyback on some of the public highlights - a handy little feature in the Kindle where it highlights certain popular sections of a book.

I'll go back for another read at some point, and have probably already violated all sorts of laws in these first few paragraphs. What can I say, Blockchain creative licence!

First off, a few super rules to consider for the aspiring - and seasoned - wordsmith!

1. Averse to Adverbs

Don't use them. Or at least minimise their use to where they work and add something. The point is, not to overuse them as this is a common error… and I'm absolutely guilty of this ;). Since reading this book, I have stopped a number of times and questioned whether to keep an adverb in and then deleted it. Sometimes they can add value, but usually they're just fluff.

For clarity, here is the Google definition of an adverb:  
A word or phrase that modifies the meaning of an adjective, verb, or other adverb, expressing manner, place, time, or degree (e.g. gently, here, now, very ). Some adverbs, for example sentence adverbs, can also be used to modify whole sentences.

So basically (ooh, adverb), they tend to emphasise what follows and often end in ly. Personally (there I go again - Adverb Adam), I think they are necessary at times and add something, but then again, that's the trap many writers fall in to and most of these instances can be eliminated completely or reworded effectively.

2. No Passion for Passive

Kingy, also isn't a fan of use of the passive voice. "Adam wrote the article" is active, "the article was written by Adam" is passive. I don't want to get too technical (party because I can't anyway ;)) so check out Wikipedia or other sources for more on that. There are instances where it works but we should lean on the active and avoid the passive. It's more direct, involved and clear. 

3. Read & Write… a lot!

There's no getting around this one. Well, maybe there is but it stands to reason that a good writer will both write a lot and read a lot. Plus they would want to do so, it's not something that would be a chore. The merits of writing a lot should be obvious, reading also helps with honing the craft, observing styles along with learning. 

4. Keep it Simple, Silly

Try not to use too complicated language. I'm guilty of this (take me down officer, I'm guilty of all charges!) but at least have some awareness. It's essentially (what did I tell you about adverbs?!) not using big words or grandiose phrases when a simpler version exists. Trying to sound too clever doesn't work and will probably alienate the audience. Play to the masses. 

I would actually challenge this, as there is a time and a place. I believe you want to stay true to your personality and not 'dumb down' in order to please everyone. However, there is a happy medium of course; simplify the text, whilst still maintaining the quirks of the writer and the pleasure of the reader! 

The fact that there are so many things we could say at any given point, is what makes the written word so interesting. And there is really no such thing as a synonym - every word means something slightly different and evokes a different emotion. 

5. Sit down to Write. Regardless.

Don't wait for inspiration. Start work, and hopefully inspiration will come along… it doesn't tend to happen the other way round. Well, it can, but don't wait for it! You need a routine. As a writer, you need to sit down and write and it needs to be on a daily basis. As with anything. 

"I only write when I'm inspired, and I make sure I'm inspired every morning at 9 A.M" ~ Peter De Vries, editor & novelist. 

King also sets a target of 2000 words per day, which is more than doable if that's what you 'do'. So, it's a good idea to set some sort of goal to keep you on task. 

Here are a few quotes from the book and my additional thoughts…

“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.”

An editor he worked with early on with a bit of sage advice for the aspiring King. The power of getting ideas out, followed be effective editing. 

Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right - as right as you can, anyway - it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it. 

The first draft is all about you and your crazy mind. Then you open the door ;)

The most important [thing learned from one of his novels] 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 sitting position. 

Writing can be a pain in the ass, let's not sugar coat it. But if it were so easy everyone would do it and be a success. Ultimately, it is rewarding and there's a pleasure in the craft and a sense of pride. You're an artist and this is art after all. 

This quote suggests that when writing fiction, characters can take on a life of their own. And secondly, the power of ploughing on despite 'not feeling it'. 

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 round. 

Perspective. 

Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful

What comes first to mind is usually the best and you should go with that. Don't second guess yourself and self-edit at that point. You can of course adjust things later. You also have to bear in mind what's appropriate - perhaps it was a bit 'blue', which is fine if it fits but should be 'toned down' for certain situations. 

If you want to be a writer, you must do 2 things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. 

Already discussed this, but here's a direct quote from the book!

In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.

A bit of the mechanics. 

Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.

The transference of ideas, stories and emotion. 

Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story.

A little more fiction writing advice. 

The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting. Stick to the parts that are, and don’t get carried away with the rest. 

Focus on the best bits!

Thanks Stevie! Anything else?

Stephen King is a fine author and this is an excellent reference book fused with auto-bio. He also talks more about his story, struggles, journey, alcoholism and 'muse'. A must-read for King fans and anyone taking an interest in writing in any way. 

So the story goes that he actually threw away his manuscript for 'Carrie', which his wife fished out the trash, he completed it and as we know the story went on to become a huge success (if a little disturbing). That sky-rocketed his career. How different it could have been, and makes you think about some of your own goals. Sometimes it may need another person's perspective, or to step away from a project and come back stronger, but whatever you do, don't give up.  

"The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed" ~ Chinese proverb

What about you? You like a bit of Stephen King? Any views on this book or writing tips?

~ Adam
@adambarratt

Related:
~ Original #BookBabble post
~ Think Like Da Vinci; End of Jobs; The One Thing; Eat, Move, Sleep
1. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
2. Crushing It by Gary Vaynerchuk
3. Finding Ultra by Rich Roll
4. Wooden by John Wooden
5. Relentless by Tim Grover
7. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
8. The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters
9. Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

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Hey there

My human master @markangeltrueman asked me to drop by to comment on this. Loved your insights into this book and it has peaked his interest. He was considering a bit of writing himself, so will look into this book and see what gives.

I have re-steemed this on the @steemsearch blog, and congrats on the curie upvote. Hope it inspires you to publish more work on the blockchain.

The Curator

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This post was upvoted by curie and it's trail as a result of a submission to the guild by @markangeltrueman. Curie is a curation guild which finds and upvotes high-quality posts by new and undiscovered members of the Steem community. View the blog at @curie

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Thanks @steemsearch… and of course to your human master @markangeltrueman too! ;). I appreciate you stopping by and for the boost. And yes, there'll be much more to come! :)

This post was upvoted by the Steemit Book Project! The project exists to help make books more available to the world and to promote book-related content on Steemit.

You can read more about the project here. If you write book related posts, head over to our Discord server (https://discord.gg/h93nHMu) and pop your book post links in the #curation-requests channel.

Hope you have a wonderful and bookfull day!

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Thanks @steemitbooks! :)

Thanks for this post. I do try to follow a lot of Mr. King's advice (generally -- haha, adverb) But I also feel like a lot of what he says also applies specifically to his genre-- not just fiction, but suspense, mystery and thriller fiction. For example, you don't want a bunch of fancy words that slow down the action when the scene should fly past you because it's exciting.

I have learned a lot from him, and I do respect him. I also marvel at how much he contemplates "the question of evil," but hey, that's his muse!

I've also found that sometimes writing something for fun alone is a great way to balance out the stress of producing a big novel. That's why I started a parody called "The Devil Plays Mr. Darcy" on my blog @JoyLovesToWrite.

I'm happy you're keeping the BookBabble tag going! It's one that deserves more attention!
Cheers!

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Thanks @joylovestowrite!

I agree, a lot applies to his 'sector' of writing. That's the thing, fancy words may fit in another context but you can't have them slowing down a plot as you say. Writing for fun alone is also a good way to go and I'll be sure to check out your blog! Mr King is certainly a complex character… but I guess that applies to a lot of writers (and other creatives)… or their muses anyway haha.

Thanks for stopping by and I do plan to continue with the book babbling ;)

Cheers!

Followed @steemitbooks and found this great article on writing! Adverbs are easy to get hung up on as they give more detail to the action. My hang up is too many commas and asides so I end up with a sentence 4-6 lines long. I'll definitely be using some of these tips to help me write on my bookreview blog. Resteeming!

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I know what you mean, it can be tricky to keep it concise. Thanks for stopping by and for the resteem. Best of luck with it all!

Handsome

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Who, Stephen King? Not sure about that but he knows his onions.

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Great, thanks for the info!