What You Can Learn from “On Writing” by Stephen King.

A useful recap

I picked up his book “On Writing” a few months ago, eager to learn new things from the master. What I did not expect was that the book was a pleasure to read from start to finish. It did not read like a book trying to teach you things, I was pleasantly surprised. I never read any of his books growing up, which is surprising, considering I grew up in Michigan, USA. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that I am quite afraid of anything to do with horror. This was especially true as a kid. I avoided scary things at all costs, especially books like “It” or “Carrie”. That does not mean I do not recognize his impact on the literature in the past few decades. These are the best things I read that may help you out as a writer.

IF YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER, YOU MUST DO TWO THINGS:

  1. Read a lot
  2. Write a lot

Pretty straightforward, but the most important thing for aspiring writers. Another thing Stephen King mentions is that if you do enjoy this process, then you probably should not be a writer in the first place. This very direct and somewhat harsh advice (if you don’t have a thick skin) is probably the best advice out there.

To add more onto this, I would suggest reading only literature from authors that you like. If you don’t know what style of writing you are into, simply look up books you enjoyed reading in the past on Goodreads and look in the related section on the page. This may help you discover similar authors that you did not know about before.

HAVE A DAILY WRITING GOAL

This one ties very well into the first point. Set writing goals and stick to them, making sure you don’t start off too crazy. He suggest going for 1,000 words a day, with one day off per week to get started. This is a great starting point, and you should be slowly ramping this up as you find your groove.

What I would like to add to this is the following, write with intent. Be critical in your editing. You can’t just write for the sake of writing, make sure you understand the basics of grammar, pacing, suspense and good dialogue. You need to be able to look at your own writing with a critical lens so that you can avoid making the same mistakes.

STORIES PRETTY MUCH MAKE THEMSELVES. THE JOB OF THE WRITERS IS TO GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS ROOM TO GROW.

This is great advice if you are a gardener rather than an architect. A gardener is someone who does very little to no planning before writing a story. He/she wants total freedom and just places characters in situations and writes freely. The word gardener is used to show that the writer is simply the person watering a new plant, which grows out of the soil and expands it roots in the earth. The roots are the backstory, the full and complex characters and so on.

ON DRAFTS.

Stephen King has quite a lot to stay about drafts, such as:

  1. The first draft of a book should take no longer than 3 months (one season) to complete.

This I completely agree with. It has to do with momentum and keeping the creative juices flowing, they must flow and you must keep writing to avoid them stagnating.

2. Write your first draft with the door closed.

What he meant with this is that you must not ask anyone for feedback until the first draft is completed. Nobody else knows what you aim to accomplish with your book. Asking opinions of those around you before finishing your first draft is futile.

What this also means is that you must keep distractions out of your writing room, wherever that may be.

3. Your 2nd draft should be 10% short than the first draft.

Stephen King basically says that if you have not cut out 10% of your story, you are simply a lazy editor. Look through your first draft and cut out anything that does not move the story forward. Cut out anything that rambles on about details that have nothing to add to the story.


What books have taught you things about writing? Leave a comment.

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