15+1 Lessons to Learn from Stephen King’s On Writing

Hullo, world!

As some of you may have noticed, now that I got college application mostly out of the way (will now be working hard to get there), I’ll be posting on Wednesdays as well. *Plays fanfare and shouts huzzah* I’ll be mostly doing book reviews and compiling book lists. Or not. We’ll see, we’ll see.

Also, check out the guest post I did on Novels and Waffles for the Bibliosmile project, as well as a great shout out to Kat who let me wander about on her blog! Really, she’s amazing. What could be more complete than books and waffles?

Anyhow. Today, I shall divulge to you the wonderful lessons in writing I learnt from Stephen King’s On Writing.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999–and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it–fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

Find on:

1. When you write a story, you’re telling yourself a story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story. 

This is the singular lesson I took away which I shall always cherish in my heart.

2. By the time (…) the nail in my wall could no longer support the weight of rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing. 

Despite what everyone thinks, Stephen King had a lot of rejections before he was published. An author is no author unless they have been rejected.

3. A writer’s original perception of a character or characters may be as erroneous as the reader’s. 

I really needed this advice for my current WIP, Woodstone Abbey. Sometimes there’s a character you aren’t sure is working. But later on, they may become one of the most intersting person you’ve ever met.

4. Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is just 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 sh**t from a sitting position. 

*coughs at the language* Every WIP is different for me. My first two major novels didn’t feel like this, although I was always in a weird sort of head space. My current WIP sometimes feels like this, but I know that when I read it back, it won’t be that terrible.

5. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around. 

*Gasps* But it is quite true. Which is why authors should have a second career…

6. Writing is telepathy. You must not come lightly to the blank page. 

This is such an interesting way of thinking about it. And it’s so utterly true. If I say there were a bunch of yellow-hat monkeys jumping on a verdant hill, that’s all you’ll be thinking about for the rest of this post.

7. I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it behoves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. 

Everyone should have their own toolbox.

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

This one is like the advice C. S. Lewis told us back in the Stalking Authors series. If more than two acclaimed authors says the same thing, it must be something to note!

9. You’ll also want grammar on the top of your toolbox, and don’t annoy me with your moans of exasperation or your cries that you don’t understand grammar, you never did understand grammar, you flunked that whole semester in Sophomore English, writing is fun but grammar sucks the big one (…) One either absorbs the grammatical principles of one’s native language in conversation and in reading or one does not. 

Me and grammatical errors.

Hear, hear! I actually quite love grammar, although as a Canadian, I take to British grammar than American ones. (It’s not gray, it’s grey. It’s learnt, not learned.) Although, you should excuse some grammatical mistakes you may find. Alas, nothing is perfect.

10. The writer threw the rope, not The rope was thrown by the writer. Please oh please. 

Classic passive voice. In reality, I struggled with this greatly since you would probably notice the greatest classical books are a landmind of passivev voice! But truly, you shouldn’t write passive voice unless a scientific paper is being written. In which case, proceed to gorge yourself on passive voice.

11. The adverb is not your friend. All I ask is that you do as well as you can, and remember that, while to write adverb is human, to write he said or she said is divine. 

As someone who grew up with the -ly adverbs, I was greatly shook. (See, I can’t even get rid of greatly.) However much I felt like tearing off a second limb, I began writing without resorting to them, and also getting rid of the he gasped or she breathed. “Said” is never evil.

12. I can’t lie and say there are no bad writers. (…) Good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals  (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style) and then filling the third level of your toolbox with the right instruments. (…) While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one. If you want to be a writer, you must do two 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. (…) If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write. 

As much as people want to be optimistic about this, it’s true. Competent writers can learn by GRIT to become a good writer, but you need to put in the work. No pain, no gain. Plus, I do not understand people who do not read. How does one write without reading? It’s like trying to exhale without inhaling.

13. “One word at a time.” 

If you know anything about Stephen King, he writes 2K everyday no matter what. The past Camp NaNoWriMo, I tried to follow his suit and write everyday.

It’s hard.

It’s not even challenging, it’s just plain hard. But once you do get into the habit of writing evereyday, it feels terrible when you don’t.

14. Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending your own personal knowledge of life. 

This is the Stephen King’s version of “Write what you know”. And you’ll be surprised at just how much you do know.

15. 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. 

Okay, so to tell you the truth, I was an avid Planner before this. I still fill notebooks after notebooks full with details about my WIPs. But in truth, if you are a Planner, it gives you a better perspective to become a Pantser. And if you are a Pantser, become a Planner. That way, you’ll see a different world.

16. You can’t let the whole world into your story, but you can let in the ones that matter the most. (…) Call that one person you write for Ideal Reader.

My IR is my brother and my sister. I write mainly for them. And I’m notorious for giving short stories as birthday presents. (I don’t apologise to those who may or may not have suffered from them.) That way, I can concentrate on writing for that person and no one else. It greatly helps with your writing.

And this doesn’t even come close to all the gold mines that are in the book. Everything about this book is so eye-opening if you consider yourself a writer (or an author), you absolutely must read this book. I would even suggest you buy one, so you can re-read it over and over again. 

What did you think? Do you read Stephen King? Or are you simply intrigued by the way he writes, even if you haven’t read his works (like me)? What are some advice that stuck in your mind?  Let me know in the comments below!

It’s Okay Even If Your Writing Is Terrible

Hello, World! I am back again for the Love, Author series. Since all the craziness of the COVID19 in the world. I’ve been shut up in my house, running bunch of marathons. Yesterday, we watched Aladdin and Eternal Zero. For those of you who do not know, Eternal Zero is about a special attack unit division in the Japanese Navy during WW2. In other words, it’s about the kamikaze–suicide bombers. But the main character is determined to live. So, I recommend it full-heartedly to everyone reading this. 

A. On Writing Voice

Anyhow, today, I want to talk about your prose, or how you write. Until I got serious about writing two years ago, I just wrote. I knew that I liked certain author’s writing voices better than others, but I didn’t know anything about prose or writing voice. 

Then it dawned on me.

Authors like Donna Tartt would write decidedly differently from authors like Rick Riordan. That’s because they have a different writing voice. It’s what gives each book a unique colour, and why Agatha Christie mysteries would sound different from Dorothy Sayers.  

And that, my readers, are writing voice. 

Grand Revelation

B. On Grammar 

Of course, there are rules. You can’t just. Do this, because you think it creates great prose. You have to follow the basic grammar rules. 

I say basic since there are tons of grammatical rules out there (the Oxford comma, controversial, like as a conjunction, etc.) and I only know so much. Especially when you’re writing and you’re in the stream, you really don’t want to be stopping every single sentence to make sure you haven’t made grammatical mistakes. 

Which is why Grammarly exists.

Just kidding. I mean, even if your story is great, there is a bottom line with grammar. You must sound like a coherent person, or it’s hard to get anywhere. 

C. On Writing Well 

So taking the two points I’ve outlined above, we’ll have some kind of idea about writing well. Obviously, something well written would have a great author’s voice, and also acceptable grammar. (Actually, not acceptable. Good grammar, more like.) If you read something written by C. S. Lewis, you’d probably know it, even if it didn’t say the author was Lewis. 

When writing, you would want to try incorporating your voice. I’ve been trying to develop my writing voice, these past years…Hopefully, you can tell when I’m writing? 

D. On Being Okay with not Writing Well

But we often fall into the trap of being too focused on writing well. We might read something other people have written, be it blogs or short stories or poetry. 

Then you realize, “Oh, I’m not that good.”

Or you go back after an intense writing sprint and read back what you’ve written. 

And it sounds absolutely terrible. 

Let me tell you one thing: It’s okay. It’s okay even if your writing sounds terrible, and if there are a million grammatical mistakes in there. It’s okay. One day, you might be that author who writes polished prose in the first draft. Or you might still write terribly, but you’ll go back and ruthlessly rewrite. 

It’s okay because the number one thing an author has to do is write. Without writing, there is no prose to revise. Without writing, there’s no chance of your writing gets better. 

So the next time you read something you’ve written, and feel like burning it, take a little break, and remind yourself, “It’s okay.” And trust me, we would all write better–you just have to keep writing.

Are you writing (even if it might not be your best)? What do you like to tell yourself to stay motivated on writing? Let me know in the comments below!