Nordic Track Book Club Review: Stephen King On Writing

On Writing
Stephen King

Everybody’s bud and the former Geek Godfather of Beantown, Jason Haley, today posted a very fine review of a book on writing titled “Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method.”  A commenter mentioned William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well,” reminding me of two things: 1) I’m about due for a Zinsser “Writing Well” re-read, and 2) I needed to post my review and excerpts of Stephen King’s “On Writing.”

Five-out-of-five stars for this non-fiction work from Stephen King, describing how his passion for writing which began in his childhood evolved into a marvelously successful career. Despite his inner doubts and the opinions of many of those around him, he just kept writing.  Highly entertaining and enlightening [NordicTrack] read.  I also learned a few things about the act of writing.  King wrote about the horrible accident he had a few years ago and how difficult is was to resume his life and his writing afterward, which was very moving.

Excerpts below.

p.50 …an original story I called “The Invasion of the Star-Creatures.” I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my talent, why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk.

p.54  Miss Margitan was hurt by what I wrote.  She was the National Honor Society advisor at LHS, and when my name showed up on the list she vetoed me.  The Honor Society did not need boys “of his type,” she said.  I have come to believe she was right.  A boy who once wiped his ass with poison ivy probably doesn’t belong in a smart people’s club.

p.57  [The editor said] when you write a story, you’re telling yourself a story.  When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are NOT the story.

p.67  I did as she suggested, entering the College of Education at UMO and emerging four years later with a teacher’s certificate…sort of like a golden retriever emerging from a pond with a dead duck in its jaws.

p.77  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.

p.101  It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room.  Life isn’t a support-system for art.  It’s the other way around.

p.106  Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

p.118  Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.

p.122  You should avoid the passive tense.  You can find the same advice in The Elements of Style.  The timid fellow writes “The meeting will be held at seven o’clock.”  Purge this quisling thought!  Put that meeting in charge.  Write “The meeting’s at seven.”  There, by God!  don’t you feel better?

p.124  The adverb is not your friend.

p.128  Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.  Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as “good” and other sorts as “bad,” is fearful behavior.

p.145  If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.  There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

p.150  Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagely and without self-consciousness.

p.153  For me, not working is the real work.  When I’m writing, it’s all the playground, and the worst three hours I ever spent there were still pretty damned good.

p.154  The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self-reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible.  And I believe the converse is also true:  that my writing and the pleasure I take in it has contributed to the stability of my health and my home life.

p.164  I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way.  On the contrary, I want them to do things their way.

p.176  It’s also important to remember that it’s not about the setting, anyway–it’s about the story, and it’s always about the story.

p.208  Once your basic story is on paper, you need to think about what it means and enrich your following drafts with your conclusions.  To do less is to rob your work (and eventually your readers) of the vision that makes each tale you write uniquely your own.

p.212  Take your manuscript out of the drawer.  If it looks like an alien relic bought at a junk-shop or yard sale where you can hardly remember stopping, you’re ready.  Read as if it’s someone else’s work.  “It’s always easier to murder someone else’s darlings than it is to kill your own.”

p.215  Every writer has an ideal reader.  “What will this person think when he/she will read this part?”  For me that person is Tabitha.


[tags: Stephen King, On Writing, Nordic Track Ski]

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A long time developer, I was an early adopter of Linux in the mid-90's for a few years until I entered corporate environments and worked with Microsoft technologies like ASP, then .NET. In 2008 I released Sueetie, an Online Community Platform built in .NET. In late 2012 I returned to my Linux roots and locked in on Java development. Much of my work is available on GitHub.