After all these years I finally sat down again and read a book by Stephen King. I remember reading his story The Long Walk as a child and being absolutely horrified by the concept of it. For those who haven’t read it, it’s a story about a marathon where the winner wins an amazing prize and everyone who gives up gets shot dead. Pretty dark and probably far too much for a child to take in. I suppose it was my own fault for reading a story like that when I was young, but needless to say it put me off from King’s books for a very long time. With Stephen King being quite active on social media these days and often saying some things that resonate with me from time to time, I decided I should pick up another one of his books. And what would have been a better book to choose than his book On Writing. I am trying to be an author myself, after all. I’ve just finished the book, reading the final chapters in the back of a classroom while the students made their math exam. Stephen King used to be a teacher himself, so I’m sure he’d approve. So let’s dive into what I learned from this book and what I think of it.
The book is more or less divided into three different parts. First we learn a little bit about King’s life and his early successes with writing. The middle part of his book touched upon the tips he has for aspiring writers and the toolbox you should build up. Finally, he talks about an accident he had right before finishing this book and what this experience did to him.
The first part of this book tells us a little bit about what kind of person King is. It talks about where he grew up, how he and his brother would often get into trouble and even his early stages of writing and producing. King was interested in writing from a very early age which is something I can relate to as well. I’ve likely mentioned it here before but I had a writing club when I was barely ten years old. We’d write on blank A4 paper which was incredibly inefficient and became a total mess but I remember having pages and pages filled with barely legible stories. How much I’d give to find those sacred texts again but on the other hand it’s probably best that the cringe has been banished to the void forever. King got a much earlier start in actually publishing works than I ever will. I hope to publish a book somewhere in the near future, but even then I’m already a bit late with it. But as interesting as his life story is – and it was an enjoyable read – I’d much rather tell you about what I learned about the craft of writing.
Let me start by saying that a lot of the advice King gives in his book isn’t exactly surprising. He himself acknowledges this as well. There’s no magic formula to writing but there are many strategies you can employ to make better stories out of the fossils you have. That’s what King calls story ideas. They’re fossils waiting for you to dig them up. I like that analogy, it’s not quite how I would describe it but it’s definitely not a crazy thing to say either. King goes on to talk about something else that I think is very important and that is creating an environment to write in. I can write anywhere and everywhere, but the level of quality that I can deliver is very different depending on when and where I write. Some of my favorite spots are on public transport, in the backyard in the shade or – no surprises here – at my desk. I recognize that a lot of the stories I write at work are pretty poor quality. I value quantity as well since it’s always possible to scrap everything, but at some point I had to admit that I probably should focus more on blogposts and things like that when I have a break at work. I can’t write a flowing chapter when a student or coworker interrupts me every other sentence, it’s just not efficient. But having the right environment to write in is absolutely key so I can find myself very well in what King talks about here.
He also talks about the more practical aspects of writing. Write in the active voice, don’t use too many adverbs, use language your characters would use and your readers would like and avoid pronouns to avoid confusion. If every paragraph has a thousand he’s and she’s who knows who is actually doing the actions. Vocabulary, spelling and grammar are all much less important now than they were before google checked all your sentences and knew four synonyms for every word you wrote down. But make no mistake, Uncle Google is far from perfect and it regularly tells me to change a sentence that I know is grammatically correct. It does fix some of my worse spelling habits though, so thank you for that.
What was probably the most gripping part of this book was King’s talk about the accident he had. I was hit by a swerving car and took a lot of damage, being airlifted to a hospital and unable to walk properly for many weeks. It really shows his talent as an author to turn a story into something so enthralling. It helps that it actually happened, but the way he knows just which details to include definitely smells of experience as an author. There’s probably more I can learn from immersing myself in his stories than from actually looking at his tips on writing. Both are useful though, and both are appreciated. So if you’re bored of reading my opinions about writing, which are much more baseless and based on much less experience, I recommend you go and check out Stephen King’s On Writing instead. Thanks for reading.