On Writing

Writing Career Corner

On WritingOn Writing by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have any desire to be a published author someone has probably recommended that you read Stephen King’s book, On Writing. Having spent the last month digesting it, I now understand why.

Whereas most books about how to write try to give step by step instructions, King’s semi-autobiographical writing manual is about finding out what works for you. The sad part is learning how to write is like trying to lose weight. In losing weight the key is diet and exercise regardless of all the quick weight-loss experts out there trying to sell you the magic pill. King explains that being a writer requires reading a lot and writing a lot. That’s a lot of time you’ll have to spend alone with nothing but a blank page and a lot of self-doubt to get you through.

King gives a nice introduction to how he got started in writing. And there is something that makes the unpublished author in me happy to know that King didn’t just wake up one morning as a millionaire author. He spent a lot of poor, bleak years learning his craft. This might explain how his writing appears to be effortless now.

In the middle of this non-fiction book, King gives some clear cut writing advice. Like how it is best to just plow through your first draft with your writing door closed and not worrying about what other people will think about it. He discusses some very academic keys to good writing like avoiding adverbs and understanding three key parts of a novel: narrative, description and dialogue. All this is good advice and probably won’t be anything you haven’t heard before if you have ever taken a writing class or talked to a college professor about trying to write a novel.

I think what makes this book work for me is that it is written with the same clear, concise voice that King uses for his fiction work. You forget that you are reading a manual on writing and you feel like you are a ghost watching a master at work. Instead of King sitting at his desk pounding out a novel, you can imagine yourself sitting in your laundry room trying to write your first novel with only your spouse cheering you on. King honestly admits that while everyone can write a novel if they sit down and work at it, not everyone is going to turn out to be a great writer. Most won’t ever be able to earn a living off of it. But that shouldn’t be why you want to be a writer. If you want to make money from writing, there is probably quick and more consistent money in it if you write software user manuals.

Having written more than my share of software user manuals, I can tell you that it doesn’t give you a sense of well being but it will pay your mortgage. And yet I, like millions of other people, want to write a novel. Oh, I dream of making it big and owning a house in Maine down the street from Stephen King, but the reality of it is I want to write because I can’t shut off the stories in my head. (I believe that either makes me a writer or crazy. You can decide which one.) When I finish my novel, because there is always one in the works, I’ll consider myself a success if I can make my husband laugh and my best friend cry. If money follows that’s just gravy. Since I share that vision with Stephen King, that writing isn’t about making money, I sort of feel validated. It’s okay if I never get published for my fiction work. I write for me. That is probably the best advice King gives. Write for yourself! Write often. Read as much as you can get your hands on. You might not make a lot of money, but you might just make yourself happy.

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