Stephen King’s On Writing was both the book most recommended to me when I began thinking seriously about a writing career and the book that had the best, most concise, most immediately applicable advice. He’s witty, he’s been through the trenches (more than once) and has obviously found ways to be productive, be successful, and take care of the body and brain that allow his creativity to flow in the best way possible.
What I’m saying is that when the man gives writing advice, we’d do well to pay attention – so listen up!
Your first goal shouldn’t be to play to the audience – find and love your own style.
“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. Your stuff starts out being just for you, but then it goes out.”
“One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what the writer is doing may seem. …vocabulary is not the same thing as feeling and plot is light years from the truth as it is understood by the mind and the heart.”
Find your active voice.
“Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”
Adverbs are a crutch – lose them.
“The adverb is not your friend. Consider the sentence ‘He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence, but ask yourself it ‘firmly’ really has to be there. What about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before… Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door?”
“While to write adverbs is human, to write ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ is divine.”
Don’t worry about political correctness, at least not in your writing.
“…if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second to least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway.”
Don’t obsess over grammar – that’s what editors are for!
“Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes. The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story… to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all.”
Make time to read. Lots of it.
“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
Turn off the TV, and eliminate other distractions, as well.
“…TV – while working out or anywhere else – really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs. If you feel you must have the news analyst blowhard on CNN while you exercise, or the stock market blowhards on MSNBC, or the sports blowhards on ESPN, it’s time for you to question how serious you really are about becoming a writer.”
“There should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or video games for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall.”
Give yourself 3 months to write a draft, even if it’s a long one.
“The first draft of a book – even a long one – should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
Leave out the “boring parts” and “kill your darlings.”
“Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do. Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
You don’t need any special education to become a writer. You just need to do 2 things: read and write.
“You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this or any other book on writing. Faulkner learned his trade while working in the Oxford, Mississippi post office. Other writers have learned the basics while serving in the Navy, working in steel mills or doing time in America’s finer crossbar hotels. I learned the most valuable (and commercial) part of my life’s work while washing motel sheets and restaurant tablecloths at the New Franklin Laundry in Bangor. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”
Also, check out Stephen King on Twitter here for plenty of other juicy King-isms and observations.
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