writing tips

Writing Lessons from Stephen King

I just finished Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and really enjoyed it.

It’s a practical, no-nonsense reflection on the writing process. Stephen King offers solid advice on how to shape yourself as a writer: from cultivating regular habits of reading and writing to exposing yourself to different styles of writing.

He’s honest and straightforward, baring the bones of writing–every aspect. He gets down to the basics about vocabulary, grammar, narration, characters, dialogue and description.

This is definitely a book that I’ll be keeping on my bookshelf as a guide and a reminder during the writing process. I love his approach and find his advice refreshing. Stephen King challenges the usual writing advice you hear: ‘write what you know’ and ‘your story must have a plot.’ His take on plotting stories is particularly interesting because I’m so used to hearing people stressing the importance of plotting your stories. He takes another view, where he sees narration and character actions arising out of situations.

Now, every writer is different and approaches the writing process differently, but I really appreciated this perspective. It made me think about my writing process and challenge the popular writing advice out there today.

Aside from the great advice, I liked his writing style. On Writing is engaging, informative, funny and candid. I learned how I can better hone my writing skills and approach my writing differently.

Here’s a summary of the lessons I learned from Stephen King:

    • You must treat writing like a job. He said that you must take it seriously and that means exercising your skills like you would a muscle. This quote says it all: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” (King, p .145). He also suggests that you create an office space for yourself, where you can tune out the world with a closed door. He mentions that music is often a strategy for tuning out the world as well. This means we have to devote privacy and time to the craft.
    • You must be honest in your writing. There’s no other way around it–if you express the story honestly with your experience and unique perspective, you’ll create a great piece. He even extends this way of thinking to profanity in dialogue. I’m not a fan of profane language in writing but there have been times when I felt it was only right to write dialogue honestly–even if that meant using a strong word or two. Writing is a liberal craft after all–it’s often used to question and challenge the norms of the day. If your writing is real and honest, it will probably resonate more with your readers.
    • You should write about things you enjoy. I think this ties back to his idea that writing should be truthful. As a writer, you should be true to yourself and not follow trends or fads. The lesson I learnt from this is that you should not only write about what you know but about what you really like. I once tried my hand at horror writing and it worked out okay. (I’m not the best horror writer and I get scared easily). It felt awkward and weird to be writing in a genre I’m not used to writing in. However, I  enjoy writing fantasy and paranormal fiction much more. That’s what I’m most interested in. You can give your story truth, life and perspective if you write about what you truly enjoy.
    • You don’t necessarily need plot to write a great story. This seems counter-intuitive but Stephen King has written many novels, where the main story sprouted out of situations rather than characters.  King calls it an organic process where you unearth different parts of the fossil as you write. I like to plot and plan  but often have to remind myself every so often that writing is an organic, spontaneous process with surprises everywhere.

If you’re looking for a book that will help you improve as a writer and give you a fresh perspective on the writing process, this is the book for you. I highly recommend it to writers at every stage: from writers just starting out to writers wanting to publish their works and to everyone in between.

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