Monday, September 24, 2012

Nuggets from the King

Every year, I try to read at least one craft book, and after three years of “meaning to read” Stephen King’s semi-autobiographical craft book, ON WRITING, I finally did. And then I kicked myself for waiting SO LONG to read it! His book is a peep hole view into his fascinating journey to publication, but mostly it’s filled with astute observations and learned experiences regarding the craft. I learned a few new things, but mostly, his shared words of wisdom were extreme VALIDATION. As in, I already do most of what he advises to do.

Anyway, here are some quotes that resonated with me. And I’m sharing them with you.

Some Stephen King (mixed with my) thoughts ON

READING: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

When someone questions me as to why I try to read two books (I always read at least one) a week, I’ll quote Stephen King. Reading poor writing helps me know what not to do. Reading good writing helps with my own craft. Also, “Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.” Plus, I enjoy it. Win-win-win all around.

ADVERBS: “The adverb is not your friend.” I already know this. You probably already know this. But Stephen King is adamant about limited adverb use. He mentions it—wait for it—copiously. Abundantly. Considerably throughout his craft memoir. Find a stronger verb. Show don’t tell. Another validation for my toolbox. How about yours?

PLOT: “I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless…and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.

I pantsed my first three projects, and when I started my current WIP, I felt like I needed to plot a bit more. And the plotting was worth it, but to be honest, I kind of like not knowing exactly where I’m going when I begin a story. I enjoy the art of discovery. And I felt like Stephen King wrote me a huge permission slip to pants a bit. To not know my ending when I start out. Is plotting completely wrong? I don’t think so. Plotting works really well for some people. Some people need a plan. And I actually believe spontaneity can exist in plotting. I still have my beat sheets for my shiny new ideas, but I think I’ll be okay to not have them completed when I go to write new projects.

DESCRIPTION: Indubitably my kryptonite.

“Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Overdescription buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium.”

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the readers.”

I always feel like I don’t give ENOUGH description because yeah, as a reader I like to have a little left up to my imagination. I like to do the same for my readers. Permission granted, says Stephen King.

DIALOGUE: Whereas description is my kryptonite, dialogue is my superpower. I attribute it to years in the theatre and scene writing and years of working with teens, and I found Mr. King’s words on dialogue refreshing and validating. Some biggies that resonated with me:

“The key to writing good dialogue is honesty.” Interpretation: keep it real.

“It’s dialogue that gives your cast their voices,” and you can do so much SHOWING through cleverly crafted dialogue.

GETTING STARTED: “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”

How many times have you procrastinated getting started on something new or revisions or that murky middle? And how many of you, once you sit your butt in the chair and force yourself to get started, find that the words start to flow and you finish a scene and wonder why it took you so long to get started?

*raises hand*

TIME BETWEEN DRAFTS: He recommends six weeks. Enough distance to still recognize it as yours, but it will also be like “reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps.”

RESEARCH: “I simply made up all the stuff I didn’t know.”

Okay, so he doesn’t REALLY make up his own facts about things, but on first draft he does. Then he goes back and fills in the blanks later. I just felt like he wrote me a giant permission slip on that one too.

KNOWING THE MARKET: “Submitting stories without first reading the market is like playing darts in a dark room—you might hit the target every now and then, but you don’t deserve to.”

TIME TO WRITE and why Stephen King writes in the morning (and why I have to write in the morning!): “And the larger the work looms in my day, the more it seems like I hafta instead of just an I wanna…”

PERFECTING THE CRAFT: “You will improve with practice, but practice will never make you perfect. Why should it? What fun would that be?”


TEACHING: “…for the first time in my life, writing was hard. The problem was the teaching. I liked my coworkers and loved the kids—even the Beavis and Butt-Head types in Living with English could be interesting—but by most Friday afternoons I felt as if I’d spent the week with jumper cables clamped to my brain.”

Stephen King pretty much summed up my energy crisis with that last line.

LOVE: “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends…it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life.”

Yes. THAT.

And one of my favorites:

WHERE TO WRITE: “put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

And I totally teared up writing that sentence because—ya know—I am such a SAP. But really, it's about priorities. Something I'm still learning. But I'm getting there.

There’s so much more I could “quote” here, about writing to an Ideal Reader and shutting the door on first draft, but you really do have to experience Stephen King for yourself. If you’ve not read it or if it’s been a while since you have, please pick it up. SO rejuvenating and refreshing. And oh, so validating.

What’s YOUR favorite quote from those listed today?


  1. I really liked this book too. You've done a great job sharing the important points. Love that we can leave some description to the reader's imagination. That is my least favorite part of writing.

  2. “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the readers.” :: LOVE!

    I'm adverb user, but I think I mostly use them to add a flavor. They seem to have become a part of my current MC's voice, which is kind of fun (I think!). I use them as a place holder often, too. When I'm editing, I go through and delete a lot, replacing them with stronger verbs, as Mr. King advises.

    Great post, Alison... I love ON WRITING too!

  3. I love that book so much; so glad you felt the same way!
    I needed to read that quote on research right now--I'm in the middle of a first draft (well, more like the start of it) and I keep stopping to figure facts and details out. I feel like King just gave me permission to fill my manuscript with TKs, and I think it'll help me keep moving forward. Yay!

  4. I LOOOOVE STEPHEN KING. More than any other writer, his understanding of craft, creativity, and "art" is what I aspire to. (Hey, it's good to have ridiculously lofty goals, right?)

    You should watch this video, as it contains my absolute FAVORITE King quote ever--it comes at the end of the video, but you'll DEFINITELY know it when you get there:

    1. Why does blogger not want to give me a hyperlink? :(

  5. I have yet to read this craft book but have heard such great things about it. Currently, I making my way (although very slowly) through Save the Cat. I don't eat up craft books because they don't have a *story* but I know they will improve my writing.

  6. I love love LOVE that book :D ON WRITING has so many quotes I want to read several times a day to make me smile, to motivate me or to validate what I'm doing! The one about art and life is especially beautiful and...I like his quote on plotting (I don't plot much. But I try now to be more organized...)
    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Excellent advice. I should probably give this book a looksie. I especially loved the line about playing darts in a dark room. =D

    ~Riv Re
    Riv Reads

  8. Oh man...he NAILS the energy drain that is teaching.

    Hm...this guy knows what he's talking about, huh? ;-)

  9. Yay! These are great quotes. I loved reading this book. It really inspired me and yes, was validation as well.

    I'm linking your post to mine today since you shared so many gems in this book!

  10. Thanks for reminding me of all the reasons I loved this book when I read it years ago! SK is the king!

    As a pantster, I totally agree with his plot advice...for me, but I realize finding a balance is what's best for everyone.


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