From the Archives: Words of Wisdom on Writing from the King

To celebrate the one year anniversary of my blog (March 13th), I’m publishing select posts throughout the year under the title “From the Archives” for those who may have missed them the first time around. Next up…

Words of Wisdom on Writing from the King

Yesterday I published, Reading Fiction: Guilty Pleasure or Worthy Pursuit? In that post I stated that I only read fiction. Well it’s just one day later and I must retract that statement.

I received a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing in the mail yesterday afternoon. Yeah, it’s obviously not fiction but it’s a book on writing fiction so cut me some slack, okay? I’ve read several excerpts in the past but decided I needed to read the entire book. Well, I couldn’t put it down.

Cover of "On Writing:  A Memoir of the Cr...
Cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

It’s a book on writing but it doesn’t read like an instruction manual and that, is a lesson on writing right there. It felt like I had sat down with a wise, yet fun-loving uncle as he imparted nuggets of wisdom, but first hooked me in by sharing funny anecdotes from his childhood.

The section where he offered advice on writing is a must read for any aspiring author. There are many great tips but I’ll highlight just two (sorry, but you’ll have to buy the book to get the full benefit).

King believes “plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.” His advice was reassuring because I’m not big on plotting and I’d wondered if that was somehow a weakness. I have a general idea of the story I want to tell and create very detailed character bios, but they are mostly for my reference only. Once I’ve completed the character bios it’s almost as if I have breathed life into them. They become real and end up telling me what comes next and it’s often different from what I had originally imagined.

He also believes that factual information belongs in the background of your story unless you’d like your book to read like a user’s manual or history text. He mentioned a couple of authors who are a little heavy on the factual information and then made this statement:

“I sometimes think that these writers appeal to a large segment of the reading population who feel that fiction is somehow immoral, a low taste which can only be justified by saying, ‘Well, ahem, yes, I do read {Fill in the author’s name here}, but only on airplanes and in hotel rooms that don’t have CNN; also I learned a great deal about {Fill in appropriate subject here}.’

It’s interesting that I just published a post on this topic yesterday. I love it when that happens. It’s like the moon and stars are aligning for some future event.

At the end of the book he tells about an accident that occurred during the time he was writing it. While going on his afternoon walk, he was struck and almost killed by a reckless driver. This part was mesmerizing because I was almost killed in a car accident too. Then he said it occurred the third week in June. Hmm…my accident did too. What are the odds it was on the same day? Well, what do you know? We were both almost killed by drivers who couldn’t control their vehicles…on the same day, June 19th, but eleven years apart, mine occurring in 1988 and his in 1999. But there was another similarity: the driver who caused his accident was reaching behind his seat, trying to prevent a dog from opening a cooler full of meat and the driver who caused my accident was reaching behind his seat, trying to open a cooler for another beer.

As he talked about the long road to recovery, I recalled my own. Maybe I’ll write about it? No, not today.

Instead, I closed the book with a smile on my face and thought, “That was a good story. Thanks, Uncle Steve.”


13 thoughts on “From the Archives: Words of Wisdom on Writing from the King”

  1. Oh happy belated one year anniversary!!
    I’ve read On Writing, great book. Although I think I approach writing different from Mr King, I myself love a good bit of plotting, and outline and structure. So when I read his book I panicked a bit (I think he calls plotting the dullard’s first recourse), but I guess it’s different strokes for different folks. Likewise my first drafts are so bare of any meat that if I had to cut them back during the editing process I’d be left with barely any story, I actually build on my initial first drafts. Goes to show that it’s important to find the write advice for you, it’s not a case of one size fits all!
    But still a fantastic book, and the part about the writer toolboox is brilliant.

    1. It’s interesting how my approach to writing has changed over the last year, especially after discovering Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. It helped me tremendously. I agree. What words for King doesn’t work for all of us. Take J.K. Rowling, for instance, from what I’ve read she planned out the entire series before finishing the first book. But I guess it’s easier to keep an entire book in your head (as King does) than seven of them.

  2. Congratulations on anniversary of blog! I’m coming up for the anni of my car accident last year, next month in which I also almost got killed – 20th June (!!!!). But I guess the moon and stars were also in some kind of alignment as I survived. Though a friend of mine when she heard, looked up astrological charts and Zeus was up there and hitting on me while travelling …
    O well – I think I’ll stick to your writing tips thanks Melissa! Stephen King’s are good. Very good. When the dust has settled, I’ll consider how to pick up the WIP – and continue.

    1. Wow, that’s another odd coincidence. I suppose we should both stay off the road around that time, lol. How did it change you to come that close to death?

      My thoughts on writing have changed since this post. I’d like to think I can carry an entire story, perfectly structured, in my head as King does, but I have to rely on the tools I’ve been blogging about over the last month. Good luck with the WIP, Susan!

  3. That sounds like a great book! I’m not a plotter by any means. The car accidents are scary, and the coincidental timing weird. I don’t think I’m going anywhere near a car on June 19th or 20th.

  4. I’ve read King’s On Writing and also found it an excellent read, with lots of great tips. I love that his writing is so accessible. Sometimes it feels like advice guides are too pretentious, like they are imparting their wisdom on us dull folks. King’s is conversational and compelling. (And I’m sorry to hear about your accident! Obviously it’s been a while, but I hope you are fully recovered.)

    1. Yes, the way King wrote his book was a lesson on writing in itself. It took about three years of procedures, but I recovered. The things they were able to do for me were cutting edge at the time and I was very fortunate to have some amazing doctors. I’m thankful that there are people on this earth who work tirelessly to improve the lives of others.

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