On Writing by Stephen King

Revelatory.

I first read this ten years ago, when I was first trying to take my writing seriously. It was inspirational then, and inspirational now, though I’ve discovered different lessons in it this time.

From the autobiographical section, I got a strong sense of the struggle King went through to become the successful writer he is. There were multiple points where he could have stopped, where people wanted him to stop, but he didn’t. Success in writing wasn’t something he was born into, it was built out of hard work over decades that finally paid off and lifted his family out of poverty.

From the section on the writing craft itself, I’ve pulled three new techniques to try:

  • Write the story first, and do the research later. The desire to get things right in the first draft is something I struggle with. King emphasizes getting the story out, and then doing the research needed to make it feel true.
  • Shoot for a second draft that is 10% shorter than the first. King insists this will push you to not only eliminate pesky adverbs, but also take out anything that is not story.
  • Rely on your characters and the situation they’re in to tell you the story, not your outline. I’ve been using this last technique to push my current novel forward. Instead of thinking through each action to its consequences for the outline in my head, I’m just writing out what the characters do and say, letting it evolve on its own. It’s helped me overcome the stress and blockage I had two weeks ago, and made writing much more enjoyable.