What I learnt from Stephen King’s ‘On writing’

‘Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.’

John Green

On-WritingWhile you might think that it’s quite odd to start a post about Stephen King’s outstanding book ‘On Writing’ with a citation by another writer, I hope you’ll get why I decided to cite him anyway.

Like many of you, I love reading and I am giving a go at writing as well. I’ve read countless of blogs, articles and books on writing and found the task pretty daunting. While I was browsing my beloved Pinterest I came across this citation and found it marvelous. Firstly because I’m just like that; an introvert who’ d rather stay indoors reading a good book, or writing one, than to go out and go wild with friends (I do that as well but reading at home beats everything). Secondly, because I realised that I also have something to tell or at least I imagine myself to have something worthy to say to someone.

I tried to write countless of time. Apart for my endless thesis for uni, I started writing short stories about almost anything that was popping into my mind: travel literature, fiction, fiction based on true stories (mine usually). Admittedly, some of them shouldn’t even get out the drawer of my desk. Thinking about the difficult task that it is to be a writer I decided to read one of my favorite storytellers’ book about how the hell do you become a competent, dare I say good, writer. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ is a phenomenal compilations of memoirs and advice on the craft of writing.

The first thing that King emphasises is that there are only two things that are required to be a writer: read a lot and write a lot. Through reading you learn invaluable lessons; from good books you learn about style, graceful narration and how to construct believable characters, from the bad ones you learn what not to do and that hopefully you might be able to write something better than that one terrible book. As King argues, ‘we read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten…in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done.’ (147) Reading is at the creative center of a writer’s life. Without reading we are not able to create something that is original and, above all, something that is worth reading.

We often hear, or read, that at the core of this craft there is a ‘write what you know’ golden rule. However, there have been many writers, editors and bloggers arguing for the silliness of this rule. After all, writers’ cannot stick to only the subject that they are most knowledgeable about. I gather it is because it would be just boring, not only for them but also for their readers. Like many other, King supports the idea of combining this rule with another one: Write what you like. Our stories need to be the product of a unique blending of our own personal knowledge of life itself and of a bit of research. What we know make us unique and that is what allow us to write something different and hopefully good.

Of all his amazing tips, the ones that really stuck into my mind are the most logical and simple ones: Expressing truthfully how people act and speak, and writing in such a manner that it shows, instead of telling, what is happening.  Description, he states, begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.

In the end, what King wants to leave us with is the awareness that writing is a difficult and oftentimes frustrating task and yet, it is also an incredible craft that allows us to create countless worlds, amazing characters and above all, fulfill ourselves.

Indeed, the main point is that giving up is not an option if being a writer is our call. Not everyone will love our works and we will never please the whole world. Rejection is part of the process and should not matter at all. The only thing that will make us better writer is to value those rejections and learn from the suggestions given by editors, critics and such. King himself received lots of rejection notes when he was a newcomer author. From those he got the formula that changed his creating vision.

FORMULA: 2nd Draft=1ST Draft- 10%.

It is therefore important to write not for the glory, not even for the money, but for the joy of writing. Only when it is something that we do with passion we can do it forever no matter what.


4 thoughts on “What I learnt from Stephen King’s ‘On writing’

  1. There’s a lot of wisdom in this book. I first read it back in 2001, a year before I graduated from high school. It’s been with me ever since.
    I think there’s truth to the “write what you know” rule, but only if qualified by a corollary, that you should branch out from what you know to explore something new. If you don’t start with what you know, you have no real foundation to build on, but if you don’t venture out into something new, your fiction will never take you anywhere worth going.

    • I totally agree. You need to follow both rules in order to create something worth reading.
      I love the way he explains everything in a very simple and effective way. There isn’t a totally right or wrong way of being a writer. However, he certainly gives important and helpful advice on the topic.

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