Tuesday, 30 January 2007

"On Writing" by Stephen King

While away on my short camping trip I thought I would re-read Stephen King's great book on the art of writing called "On Writing". Now I've read this book before a few years ago, when I was going through a phase of buying lots of "how to" books on writing fiction hoping they would inspire me to keep writing. Unfortunately they didn't at the time. But I think I enjoyed Stephen King's the most out of all of them.

On Writing is a little different to most of the other texts out there on writing fiction. SK starts out the first third of the book in almost autobiographical fashion so you can maybe gain some insights into his head space when he writes. Lets just say for someone who is oh so very famous now he came from oh so very humble beginnings. A very poor family, terrible ear infections, dead end jobs and even alcoholism and eventually drug addiction to boot (can't even remember writing Cujo). The one constant he had through all those times was writing. Writing writing writing and a never say die attitude. I think this is one of the things I admire about him most, despite all the rejections, despite all the setbacks, despite being truly dirt poor white trailer trash, there was always writing.

The middle of the book talks about how SK writes today, his regimes, his thoughts on the craft and his utter, utter disdain for the adverb (have I used one yet? God I hope not...) and his ideas behind plot and story. It's interesting to note that SK is another author who doesn't do a lot of pre-planning or plotting before he starts to write. He just gets his initial idea, shuts the door to his office, and dumps everything out of his head in his first draft. It's the second draft when he "writes with the door open", when he lets others see it. But that first draft, it's just one big ole purge.

The end of the book talks about almost dying after being hit by a car while on one of his daily walks. This man came so very close to death, and then crawled back from it. Maybe it was payback for the author he tortured in Misery :-)

I really enjoyed On Writing as SK talks about most of his writing coming from a gut feeling, an instinct, and not worrying too much about what is going to happen next because your characters will let you know. He talks about doing his 2,000 word a day quota and if he is done by 10:30am then great, if he is still plugging away at 3:30pm it doesn't matter, just as long as he gets that 2,000 in. Now that I am writing every day SK's book has been very inspiring and I'll keep working to my goal.

For my next book - yeah keep talking positive - I'll be upping my daily word quota to a minimum1,000 a day. I'm hitting that mark most nights now, but for the next book I want to get really serious. When I get to book number three and I have quit the day job because of the $300,000 advance I'll get, then I'll go to 2,000 a day just like SK.



Yeah so anyway, if you are keen to buy another book about writing, but are a bit tired of the same ole "You must know the book's premise" etc (not that it doesn't have it's place) then On Writing is something you can enjoy a bit more for it's very readable quality and advice.


Jennifer Talty said...


"On Writing" is an excellent book. I think Steven King is amazing. The book Cujo distrubed me. The movie, well lets just say when I hear a dog bark, and I'm in a car, well, yeah...

What I find so interesting about writing and writers in general are the different approaches. Personally, I'm an outline nut. I do extensive planning up front. Of course, then I get frustrated when I realize things have to change, but this works for me. One of the things I liked about "On Writing" was to see how a different process could be very sucessful. I think this book is a must book for any writer, regardless of how you approach the writing process.

OzWriter said...

Jennifer wrote: Personally, I'm an outline nut. I do extensive planning up front. Of course, then I get frustrated when I realize things have to change, but this works for me.

I was having a discussion with a friend at work recently about this very thing (*waves* at GP if you're reading). He's another frustrated writer, got all the ideas in his head, has started on the novel a few times but always seems to hit a wall. He told me he too is an outline nut, he has to have the basic plot mapped out start to finish, in depth character bios, world building, the whole enchilada.

I asked him if he thought that perhaps when it ground to a halt was it around the time when, despite his plot telling the character to turn left, they insist on turning right, and there is nothing you can do to convince them otherwise. Because he had been plotting things out to the nth degree, when something started to happen that wasn't already planned he was stopping because of the great unknown. I think a little light went on for him at that point.

Even while I was writing when away, one of my lesser characters decided they wanted to come along to the end of the book. I fought it like crazy, I don't want you to come, you're not supposed to come, please don't get in the car. But they put their foot down and said they were coming along, quite frankly, whether I liked it or not. *sigh* So I just rolled with it and kept writing and now they are here...


Jennifer Talty said...

I really think the key to outlining is understanding that it's a road map, you might have to take a detour and honestly, I don't think it works for everyone. There are certain things that are a must in writing, but this is not one of them. Do what works for you. Most importantly, finish the dang book.

Okay, go visit my blog. I've got my second book cover up, which I just got today.

Okay, need to sleep. Nighty Night.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

I cannot outline. I know my characters and I know the GMC and sometimes I know the black moment, sometimes not. But for me, half the fun is seeing where my characters want to take me.

Go with what works best for you, but the most important thing is to keep writing.

Jennifer Talty said...


You do outline. Yes, yes you do. You just do it differently. Your proposals for the CC is an outline. So there.

I have this sudden urge to cuss.

Kari Lee Townsend said...


That's me giving you the rasberries, Jen.

I don't, I don't, I don't outline. I DO come up with "the Plan" for where I'm going with my books, but I cannot plot out every chapter and every scene.

A true outline to me is one where you actually figure on 20 chapters or whatever, and you plan out what scenes you want to go in each chapter.

I do the "must haves" but sometimes I really don't know the black moment until I get into the book. I think the type of book you write depends on how much you have to know before you get started.

Love ya, chica;))))

How's the progress coming, Ozzy. I love calling you Ozzy cuz no one else does;)))

OzWriter said...

You can call me Ozzy as long as you say it like Ozzi Osbourne, or Wizard of Oz. If you pronounce it Ossie - like floss your teeth - I might have to get Jen to go and smack you (little Australian pet hate there). :-)

Progress is moving along. I'm getting to the tail end of the book now. Just have to finish it up without dragging it on too long. I hope to get a goodly amount of work done this weekend (midday Saturday as I write this with almost 1,500 words in the bag) and hopefully have it stitched up by next weekend at the latest.


Jennifer Talty said...

"I am Iron Man...."

"Crazy, but that how it goes...."

"Mama, I'm coming home..."

Yeah, me likes that.

FTR - I smack Kari every chance I get.

OzWriter said...

Finished the day with 2,000 words. Not the 2,500 that I wanted, but I'm still satisfied.

Now come to my lips, yon glass of red, and let me sate myself on thee.


Kari Lee Townsend said...

Oh, yeah, Ozzy Osbourne all the way;)

Red wine, white wine, ANY kind of wine for me.

Ouch, quit smacking me Jen. I'm very scared to share a hotel room with her again when we go to our conference in March. Cyber smacking doesn't hurt nearly as much as the real thing in person;)