Thursday, September 27, 2012

On Reading Stephen King's On Writing

Dear Mr. King,

Okay, so first off I should probably tell you I’ve never been a big fan of yours—I am sorry. It isn’t so much you, as it is your genre. I read Carrie as a teenager and it scared the living bejezzus out of me, so I never read anything else. Everyone I know loves your books, so this is really all about me, and not about you. I know you are a very talented and imaginative writer; your work simply gives me nightmares.

So, when I finally started writing after a lifetime of saying “one day”, everyone recommended I read your book on the craft, On Writing. I kept putting it off, because, well, sorry again, you wrote it and it might scare me, and give me writing nightmares, where pens and paper and computers come after me wielding axes and are covered in blood. Ewww.

But I finally decided to bite the bullet and read it. What a fabulous surprise when I could not put it down! The memoir half is riveting and one thing in particular became obvious to me as I read that section: I sadly did not live a painful enough childhood to render me a talented writer. Like Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes, you suffered some fairly grueling experiences and were not a robust, healthy lad. I had scarlet fever as a very young child—does that count for anything? I still remember the hallucinations, all these decades later—surely that should count for something!

But of course the reason for reading your marvelous book is for the insights into the craft. I’ve read numerous books written on the subject, but yours is the most helpful, straight forward, and most  enjoyable to read. If it is alright with you Mr. King I would like to share with my readers some of the wisdom I’ve learned from your book.

Oh, and I’ve decided to give a book or two of yours a try. But if they give me nightmares you’ll be hearing from me again. Oh yes…you’ll be hearing from me…

Monica Knightley

Some of the stand-out bits of Stephen King’s wisdom, as in ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT:
    1. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” This is my favorite, because I’ve been doing this all my life. Easy. He adds, “Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”

    1. King isn’t a plotter. He puts characters in a situation and begins to narrate, allowing the characters to do things THEIR way. I’m not sure if this can work for all of us, after all he’s brilliant and can pull it off. I would love to write like this, and maybe someday I will be able to, but I’m not there yet.

    1. Dust off that copy of Strunk and White’s ELEMENTS OF STYLE! (Strunk and White would tell you there is an error in that sentence- let’s see if you can find it.)

    1. “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” Writers must be vigilant against overdescribing and underdescribing. I’m working hard to master this one.

    1. Use passive tense verbs sparingly. Active verbs are king.

    1. “The adverb is not your friend.” And “…the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” I know this. I’ve read this so many times. So I want to know this: Why am I teaching adverbs to my second graders?

    1. Avoid dialogue attribution whenever possible, and never, ever use adverbs in those evil attributions. “…while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.” So simple, so clear.

    1. When you rewrite you’re taking out all the things that are not the story. I’m posting this in my writing space. (see 9)

    1. A writer needs a writing space and it needs a door the writer is willing to shut, thus telling the world you mean business. Most important, this space should contain nothing that can distract the writer. He obviously (adverb alert!) wrote this book before the dawn of social media.

    1. “Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.” Thank you Dear Husband for believing in me!

    Happy Writing!


  1. Monica,
    Thanks for sharing this. Stephen King's memoir was highly recommended and one of the first books I read to help me with "the craft." I loved his straight forward advice, and yes, writing is a lonely job. Having people who believe in you is so important. Great post!

    1. Ashlyn,

      I'm glad you enjoyed this post. I can't believe it took me so long to get around to reading this book, but I feel like it's the right time now. I may have been a little overwhelmed by it a year ago. Not to mention, afraid of its author! Thank you for stopping by my blog.

  2. Another wonderful post! I thought your letter to Stephen King was very entertaining. I read one book of his and it scared me so much I never picked up another one, but I may just break down and buy this one.

    1. Kylie,

      After reading this book I felt like I understood King better, and I'm hoping with that understanding I can read and enjoy one of his classics, without the haunting nightmares.

  3. Monica, This is a fantastic blog post. I love your open letter to Mr. King. He was such an incredible influence on me as a teen. I read him voraciously. It's a wonder I ever ended up a romance rather than a horror writer. Then again, perhaps it's why I like my romances to be gritty and full of trouble. :) I have read On Writing and agree that it's a valuable treasure trove of wisdom from a brilliant writer. Thanks for reminding me of the highlights.

    1. Christy,

      You sound like the person to recommend a King book to me, since you loved him as a teen. Where should I begin? Please keep in mind I get scared fairly easily!

      Thank you for the comments!

  4. Hi Monica,

    I've never read Stephen King nor have I watched his movies. I heard about Carrie and that was enough for me. I easily and effortlessly have nightmares if I read or watch something akin to a thriller or horror or bloody anything story. It makes no difference what time period it is set in either. So, it makes sense that I've turned to writing romance! Having read Mr. King's thoughts on the craft of writing, I may just have to get that book and read it! I doubt I'll have nightmares and I'm sure I learn something!

    1. Judith,

      Yes! I highly recommend this book. First, the memoir part is fascinating--a real insight into the man and writer. Second, his thoughts on the craft of writing are accessible and straight forward. Reading this book was like getting to have a conversation with a great writer.

  5. Monica,

    May I just say thank you for sharing your musings with the world?

    Your blog has become one of my very favorite stops on the web, and you always say something that resonates with me and makes me laugh--much like talking with you in person.

    Love #6 I suppose we must know the enemy before we can vanquish them? (My editor has a joke that her writers have to show her a new piece of promo they've done for their published works before they get to keep a -ly word. She is constantly trying to separate us from our adjectives and adverbs)

    I'm sure I'm one of the people who told you to read Mr King's book. Glad you loved it. Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terebithia) said there seems to be an unwritten rule somewhere that award winning authors must have had an awful childhood. Hmm, perhaps that is code for 'Must have a drive to write, and be good at it, that supersedes many of the other activities in our lives.' People who feel a lack in some area of their childhood often excel at pouring themselves into their talent to the point of obsession.

    On the other hand, there are many successful writers who are happy, well-adjusted people. I just don't know any.
    (Okay, kidding)

    Happy writing,

  6. Cathryn,

    I'm so excited that there are a few people out there who are enjoying my musings! I feel like I'm finally finding my 'blogging voice.' It is so kind of you to stop by regularly--I truly appreciate it.

    And as for happy well-adjusted writers, I'm counting on it. You certainly seem to be one Cathryn!