In a previous post I hinted at a new writing schedule I'm using. I'll be writing more about it in the coming weeks, but it's working. I'm writing, on average, 1000 words a day!
And the 'reading' bit? I read all the time. I've always got at least one book on the go. But what about reading a book on writing? Wouldn't that help? I thought it might.
So, a few weeks back I hit Amazon looking at the sample pages of a few books on how to 'Become a Bestseller!!!'. Well, not really. I was just after a quality guide to help with my writing. It was difficult because I wanted something that was clear, but not too boring, and not full of hyperbole that seems to dominate the self-help genre.
I found it - Stephen King's On Writing.
Is it good?
Better than good. It gives wonderful, insightful and useful tips about writing. But more than this - it's a great read!
On Writing is a memoir, and as such we are invited into King's past as he takes us on his journey to writing stardom. He tells us a very honest story of how he started writing as a child- his mother bought his first stories for "a quarter a piece", to publishing his first novel, Carrie. What I liked is how he paints a very real picture of his journey. He had many obstacles and setbacks to his writing just like we all do. He speaks almost fondly of the stack of rejection slips he had nailed to his wall!
He is a funny writer too. And I found myself chuckling along through the whole thing. Here's one of my favourite bits, where King laments the 'truth' that bad writers exist:
"I can't lie and say there are no bad writers. Some are on staff at your local newspaper, usually reviewing little-theater productions or pontificating about the local sports teams. Some have scribbled their way to homes in the Caribbean, leaving a trail of pulsing adverbs, wooden characters, and vile passive voice constructions behind them."
I had a loud guffaw at this and wondered which best selling author he was thinking of when he wrote it (Jackie Collins? Danielle Steel?).
King allows us a view of deeply personal trials. His addiction to drugs was a surprise to me. At the end of the book, he shares his come back from a near fatal accident, and it is truly inspiring to read about his strength during this time.
But what about the writing?
This is why I had picked the book in the first place. So did he help me with writing? YES! He references Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, a lot - "There is little or no detectable bullshit in that book." And gives plenty of his own advice.
As I read, On Writing, I highlighted various tidbits that were particularly useful and I'll share some with you here:
- Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it, and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.
- The basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind.
- The adverb is not your friend.
- The best form of dialogue attribution is said, as in he said, she said, Bill said, Monica said.
- Omit needless words.
- You should have settled on a daily writing goal ... I suggest a thousand words a day
- In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it 'got boring,' the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.
- Never tell us a thing if you can show us, instead.
There are many more of course, but really you should read it for yourself and make your own highlights.
One recurring piece of advice King states, is to always tell the 'truth' in your writing. What he means is that your story, whether narrative or dialogue, must seem true. "Honesty is indispensable." I think this is very good advice, but difficult sometimes to assess in your own work.
For aspiring writers, I cannot recommend this book enough. But if you're a Stephen King fan you will also find it interesting.
I'd like to finish by quoting one more snippet from King, that reflects the start of my post:
"If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."