On Writing by Stephen King - My Thoughts
I’d heard a lot about this book over the years. It had come up in Facebooks posts, in writing groups, in my degree, but I had never bought the damn thing!
I read it in 3 days.
At first, I felt King was a little overbearing, perhaps patronising, a bit harsh. But after really getting into it, I loved his style. Straight to the point, no crap, swear words splattered across the page to highlight his point. He’s come from a tough background and he’s made millions, but the tone that I had initially thought of as patronising was actually really down to earth. He just loves writing and creating stories.
I laughed aloud many times whilst reading this book as well as feeling a little teary. Most importantly, though, I contemplated my own writing in response to his advice/experience.
Stephen King says he thinks of novels as fossils. He finds them, then he works to gently uncover them and set them free. He begins with a scenario, then he gets the characters. He doesn’t like plot. He wants to discover the story and the characters as he goes along.
This seems rather daunting to me. I think I do it a little - I’ve never been one to map anything out to the very last detail – but I do like to know where my story is heading, what will most likely be the ending, and have a fairly detailed character design. But, as Stephen says, the fossil method is what works for him, it doesn’t have to work for everyone else.
What really struck a chord with me at this moment in my writing phase was his comments on editing, revising and redrafting. He says to write the first draft with the door shut. Create in your own world. No one else needs to be involved. Then, leave your manuscript alone for at least 6 weeks so you can come back to it and read it as a stranger to the work.
I had a brief break from Floreat after the first draft. Then I did a quick edit and gave it to my mum to read through. She gave some feedback, I edited again, then I sent it out to my beta-readers. I hadn’t re-read the piece for a few weeks.
During this break, there was a part in the book that was still niggling at me. It just didn’t seem to sit right. I felt like I had written it in order to satisfy the plot, but it didn’t seem to ring true with the characters. It was like one of those all-too-easy resolutions you find in blockbuster action movies, where, if you were to stop and really consider how the character came to that resolution, you would find holes like craters on the moon.
I needed a break from Floreat. I needed time to think about other things and then come back to it, mull it over, and find a solution that would be more in-keeping with the characters.
When I found it, I went back to the editing table. I rewrote what I was unhappy with. Then I re-read the whole book, finding obvious flaws. Then, I went over the novel with my red highlighter, crossing out anything that was unnecessary or garish or just plain awful. I had even put a reference to Dracula in a book which is set in 1869, over twenty years before Stoker wrote his classic! And I felt quite embarrassed that I had sent out such copies to my beta-readers. Luckily, they are friends and fellow writers, so hopefully they didn’t judge me too harshly.
In short, I think King is absolutely right. You need time after a novel. You need space away from it, away from the pressure of it. King recommends working on something entirely different during those 6 weeks away, like a short story on a different theme. I shall do this after I’ve written the first draft of my next novel.
But, you see, it’s tips like these that degrees don’t give you. It’s the straightforward, to the point, no messing around, voice of experience that talks to you like an old friend, that you don’t always find inside university books or when you are buried deep inside your own mind.