For the Sake of Beauty: A Review of King’s On Writing

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King, Scribner, 2010

By far, the hardest part of the Writing Process is sitting down to write, isn’t it? Getting the actual words onto the blank page. Or am I alone on this? Some days I sit down and write for hours, and the words seemingly spring from my own fingertips—days when the stories write themselves. On other days, though, I can’t even find the motivation to sit down, and if I do, I don’t write more than 1,000 words; what I do usually regurgitate on those days is crap.

How then, searching through limitless writing about writing, am I supposed to follow everyone’s advice: write every day? Walter Mosley, Joseph Finder . . . Hell, even Stephen King—all their insight is the same. Write. Every. Day. It’s all fine and well if they say it. They’re getting paid. Of course they’re going to write daily.

So what about the layman? The writer who is working another full-time position to pay bills? If I could count the amount of times I’ve heard the words “If there were only more hours in a day . . .”

Let’s face it, folks. As much as we wish for things to change, which as writers we do all the friggin’ time, the book isn’t going to write itself. Yes, I’m going to batter in what all your Middle-School English teachers tried to beat into you. You have to put in the work with Language Arts. It’s not some second-hand hobby that can be picked up and tried on. If that’s what you’re looking for, take a trip to your local Goodwill. Developing skills in writing is one of the hardest things you can do, and it takes constant practice.

If you want to be a successful writer, there are things you must do and discipline you must lay on like butter, or, as some people prefer, mayonnaise. More so than your morning sandwich. If being a successful writing is something you want to achieve, you need to be willing to put in what it takes. You want the discipline dripping from the sides.

 I finished On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King last week. Yes, it was the second time. (That’s becoming a theme of this blog, isn’t it? Second read-throughs. We’ll have to see if we can change that.) Insightful at the very least, King provides his background in writing—a kind of primordial recipe for his success—and his insights on the writing process. Or, at least, the process that has worked for him.

I gathered five main points:

  1. You need to read, and you need to write: “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” King (145). The reading, I think, shouldn’t be a problem for most of us. The writing, however, presents some problems. DO IT EVERYDAY!
  2. You need to find a place to return to, a place where you can write and produce your best work. Two months ago, I found a desk at an estate sell. You can’t imagine how excited I was; it was the sort of desk I’d been looking forward to owning my entire life. Do you know where I go to write every day? The public library. There are way too many distractions for me at home.
  3. Once you’ve found your place, write with the door shut. I.e., write your story for the story’s sake, your character’s sake, or for your sake. But DO NOT write it for your audience yet. Yes, King talks of writing with Ideal Readers in mind, but do not write it for them. Once your story is finished, read and revise your story with the door open. This is when you’ll imagine your audience’s and reader’s reactions. This is where you’ll polish your turd.
  4. Narration, Description, Dialogue, & Vocabulary—King has some good ideas here, but it’s all related to his style, and everyone writes differently. It is worth taking a gander, though, because whatever he’s doing is working.
  5. In all that you write, make sure you are telling the truth. This is the thesis of his book, the point that he hammers in again and again: “. . . you are breaking the unspoken contract that exists between writer and reader—your promise to express the truth of how people act and talk through the medium of a made-up story” (King, 186).

These, of course, are insights that belong to him, which makes them subjective. Not every publisher is looking for the same thing, and there will be times when you will want to lie in your work. Not for the sake of lying, but for the sake of doing something beautiful, something that breaks all understood conventions of the craft. By breaking certain expectations. You can’t do this if you’re telling the truth all of the time, but for the most part, yes, I agree with the King.

If you haven’t had a chance to read through On Writing, I would highly suggest it. It’s written well and moves quickly. And King is successful, so it makes sense that he knows his shit. After you finish it, don’t just think about what he’s said. Write about it. Everyday.

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