31 December 2022

On Writing, by Stephen King

Posted by Callan Bentley

This is a little book about writing by Stephen King, renowned author of 50+ best-selling novels. It’s mainly autobiographical, detailing King’s childhood, alcoholism, and being run down by a distracted driver, but also includes good general writing advice: Ditch the passive voice. Don’t use adverbs. Write solo in an effort to purge the story from your mind, then let it sit for some time and come back to it, looking with fresh eyes. Identify the themes you’ve rendered, and choose what to enhance and what to purge. For the initial writing, King advises closing the door and letting the story flow and grow unimpeded. You’re not engineering it, you’re discovering it. This stage of writing is an act he equates with excavating a newly discovered fossil. The point of this analogy is that the story is already extant, you (as writer) merely need to transcribe it. In other words, King advocates for a less intentional, more subconscious form of creativity. You just need to be present for the requisite amount of time. The intentional part comes later, after a rest and some space. I find this resonates with my own writing practice, though that’s been wholly in the realm of nonfiction. I’ve never really given any thought to writing stories myself, but this book makes the assumption that’s what its readers are after. On Writing stimulated me to wonder what stories I could produce that no one else has already done. It would be fun to find out — if only I had the time. An added bonus – there are multiple appendices listing excellent novels worth reading. I think I’ll Xerox this list, fold it up in my wallet, and then grab one or two every time I go to the library.