ON WRITING – A MEMOIR by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton, 2000)
Instead of a book, this could easily have been a post on Facebook by his wife Tabby on why Stephen King would never write again.
It was finished as part of the recuperation following horrific injuries King sustained after being hit by a truck while walking near his home.
It takes King an average of three months to write the first draft of a novel. This ‘manual’ was only half finished after 18 months and its completion is a testament to his determination and love of the art and craft of writing.
The first section (C.V) comprises a few snapshots of his life which show that he always had a drive to write – what he calls a “restless pen”. This landed him in trouble at high school when he wrote satirical stories featuring barely concealed caricatures of his teachers. But he also got some valuable advice there from his English Literature teacher who told him “When you’re writing, you’re telling yourself a story. When you re-write, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story”.
The need for rigorous editing is something King strongly advocates even when it means eliminating some good writing. If it’s not helping to move the story along, it should be ditched. His other tips include paying close attention to the practicalities of composition. This is not so different from the kind of advice about grammar, vocabulary and style which you might be fortunate enough to receive from a competent English professor at school or university. I particularly liked his comments on the overuse of adverbs which he likens to dandelions in a garden. One or two might look pretty but if there are too many the story gets swamped by these ‘weeds’.
King pleads guilty to the accusation of some critics that he is a “vulgar lowbrow” so this guide is aimed squarely at writers of popular fiction.
His aim is to enrich the lives of readers by telling entertaining stories and one surprising detail is that King does not believe in mapping out a plot. His novels begin with a ‘What if…’ scenario and ideas for good characters. If the original idea is good, he says, the story will take care of itself.
“Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation”, he writes. Although the process of finishing a book can be long and frustrating, he believes that it should also be fun. If everything is mapped out from the start, the level of enjoyment diminishes.
This book is worth reading both for the down to earth practicalities and for the enthusiasm King shows for the craft which is evident from the closing lines: “Writing is magic: as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up”.