Tag Archives: Fiction Writing

Writing About “On Writing”: Lessons from Stephen King

Despite the previous post I wasn’t completely unproductive last week. I was able to read Stephen King’s On Writing which was one of my Sober September purchases. I’m not sure why I didn’t get around to reading it then. Better late than never, right? Anyways, as the title implies, the book is about writing. Duh. Since Stephen King is a pretty successful writer you’d expect him to have something insightful to say about the craft.

The book isn’t completely about writing as I soon discovered. The first section of the book is a rough autobiography of King’s childhood and early adulthood that shows how much he’s always loved writing and his struggle to get work published. King seems to have taken failure in stride by hanging up his rejected manuscripts on the wall of his room and kept pushing forward. Reading, writing, and submitting stories until his first major success Carrie was published.

The end of the book, like the beginning, isn’t directly about writing and covers King’s near-death from being hit by a car. (He says something like he was hit by a character right out of one of his stories.) At first this section seemed off and ham-fisted, but with his multiple surgeries and recovery he wasn’t able to write at all. King apparently writes for at least a few hours everyday so this whole incident really broke him from his habit. Towards the end of this section he struggles to pick up writing again and feels as awkward as him learning to walk again was. His writing is his joy and his life and the return to writing was another part of his recovery and he soon found himself finding his stride after losing it. It’s a great way to round off the whole arc of the book.

Okay, onto the on writing part of On Writing. It’s a great book and I sailed through it easily, a welcome break from The Wheel of Time series. Curiously King doesn’t give many clear and direct tips to write successfully; his entire philosophy seems to be to “read and write all the damn time” or at least as much as you can. Sure he shits all over adverbs and ‘the passive voice’ (something I’m still trying to work on. “I am writing this blog post,” as opposed to “The blog post is being written by me.”) while stressing good grammar, but these clear and direct tips are pretty sparse. In short he realizes that writing is a creative experience and it’s hard to offer ‘rules’ that successful writers break all the time. Like sure you can break grammar rules or use the passive voice for effect, but you better know damn well what you’re doing before you try it!

King also dunks all over a heavy reliance on plot and feels it’s too rigid to tell a good story. His idea is that stories are living things, and you start with the characters and a situation and see what happens when you let the story play out. It’s writing without an idea of where the story will go. He sees it this way: if you force a conclusion onto characters who don’t operate a certain way it’s obvious (“This character wouldn’t do this!”) and feels clunky. While I generally feel this to be great advice, especially for myself, I can see other writers taking the plot route and having it work out wonderfully for them. Think of Robert Jordan’s 13-book-series The Wheel of Time again. I don’t think he plopped some characters on a page and magically ended up with an entire 13-book-long series. It seems like he’d need to have a general plot lined out before writing such a massive series. But I don’t know that for fact so who knows.

As mentioned, the main takeaway from the book seems to be to read and write often. Make a habit or a chore out of it. Sit down everyday (or as frequently as you can) and fucking write. See what happens. Even if what you write is trash, well, at least you have something to show for it and you’ll only improve over time. Reading is just as important because that’s how you learn how to write better. Reading gives you ideas, styles, and techniques to use in your own writing; I totally stole semicolons from reading a bunch of Alan Watts. Sentence fragments and gut reactions? Thank you Hunter S. Thompson. By reading you discover what works and what doesn’t, especially regarding your own style of writing. You read a long, detailed, and boring description of a room that you hate? Don’t be overly descriptive in your own writings. Read a few pages of amazingly tense dialog? Put some intense dialog in your own stories. Dig in and do what you like to do. But the only way to realize this is to read and learn, write and try, and see if it works in your own writing.

After writing all of that I’m tempted to imposter syndrome myself into thinking I’m not really a writer. I don’t read as often as I should and I definitely don’t write as much or as freely as King says you have to to be a writer. Is this something you can learn or do you need to be a natural reader/writer from the time you’re a kid like King was as a child? Eh, have a little confidence, I was able to write this and it’s something, right?

I highly recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in writing. The book mentions a ton of important things to improve your writing even if it is nebulous and generalized guidelines like WrItE eVeRy DaY! After reading the book I found I was  inspired to write, to get over the worry of writing and just sit down and write. To plop out whatever is in my mind and see what the mess looks like on paper. It’s like the entire book of On Writing is Stephen King being a hype-man for writers everywhere. Follow his advice. Read the damn book. And then hole yourself in a room and start writing!

Check out my Instagram where I post pointless artistic pics and shitty poems every whenever I get around to it.

Or my other blog where I sometimes post stories.

Or Wattpad where I have a Morrowind fanfic ongoing also sometimes post stories.

Writing Kinda Sucks

“…I’ve always considered writing the most hateful kind of work.”

Hunter S. Thompson

I think when we pick up any new hobby or interest we only see the positives. We see the glory of it — the big picture of it all. As a painter you imagine relaxing at home and just creating beautiful artwork. Or the pianist sitting at their instrument creating interesting and wonderful music. Or the author, bringing magical worlds to life that only exist on paper and in the imagination of your readers. You dream of actually making it by publishing your books, selling your artwork, or ending up in a successful band, etc. When we undertake a new goal or hobby we rightfully only see the good because it’s where we want to be in our lives. But to get to the good you have to toil away with the total bullshit that no one talks about.

Prospective writers and authors also have their own fantasy: sitting at a desk with a cup of coffee and a dog in the corner/cat in your lap while you let your imagination run wild with ideas that you effortlessly slap down on paper/PC/typewriter/whatever the fuck you’re using. Anyone who has even attempted writing will instantly know this is bullshit. No one idolizes the times where you’re staring at your computer at 11 p.m. and while wanting to write something realizing that you have no idea for what to actually write. Or maybe you have an idea but it doesn’t come out right and you can’t get into a flow. There’s also the opposite problem like with me right now: awake at 2 a.m. suddenly finding yourself inspired to write a blog post about writing. The idea just appears out of the ether and you gotta grab the inspiration before it disappears.

I always thought writing was easy. It’s not that it’s hard like math is hard; it’s a different sort of difficult. I was always the type of person to procrastinate school papers until the night before they were due and knocked them out in a few hours of furious typing; I’d always get good grades by doing this too. Maybe this is where I got the “writing is easy” idea from, and I know for a fact it’s where I got my dreadful procrastination from. (Why plan anything out when you can knock it out in a few frightful hours?!) But writing isn’t easy. Let me walk you through a typical writing process for me. I’m assuming everyone else has similar issues and the more we write the more we learn to manage and minimize these pain-in-the-ass traits that writing entails.

Inspiration

This sounds stupid, but you need to have something to write about before you write. You need a story idea or a blog post idea or something. Once again this was never a problem in high school or college when people told you what to write. Now that you’re doing this on your own you need to figure out your own ideas. These ideas almost have to accidentally come to you and this is frustrating, especially in regards to blogging. We all know that frequently posting is a good idea, but you also need ideas for your posts. You end up torn between spam-posting low quality stuff day-after-day or postponing things for so long that you appear to be unreliable. It’s a pain in the ass.

It’s even worse for fiction writing as you need to conjure up characters, a plot, themes, and whatever else, and as I mentioned earlier you can’t seem to force this part. You can’t sit down and force yourself to write a good story with no plot in mind. You have to sit around and brainstorm and hope something good comes along. Even so, this isn’t an invitation to procrastinate in terms of perfection: you still need to get off your ass and write! It sounds contradictory huh?

The Writing

After you have an idea you can get to work on it. This is the actual fun part of writing where you can let your ideas run wild. Writing is the transformation of ideas into concrete words and sentences that other people can enjoy. It’s timeless and romantic and amazing to do when you get in the zone. You’re literally creating new worlds that have never been created! Bringing into existence people, creatures, and things that have never existed outside of your mind! It’s amazing! Sometimes you start typing and are surprised with what you’ve written, as if the ideas materialized out of thin air. What you write might be fantastically good, or shine light on some subconscious workings of your mind that you’re not even aware of. It’s this part of writing that is the most addictive. This is what I love about writing.

The Editing

For fucks sake this part is awful. I worked for hours day-after-day to finally edit my two ebooks and it wasn’t enjoyable at all. This is the part of the writing process where you take your random, rough, and rambling writings and clean the things up. You’re hunting around for grammatical errors, factual errors, spelling errors, and any other errors imaginable. For fictional stories you’re also making sure the characters’ names and jobs are consistent and that everything makes sense. I realized in one one of my stories that a character was terribly inconsistent in two of the chapters he’s in and it’s something that needs to be fixed. Sometimes you need to move paragraphs and chapters around or even delete the damn things. Sometimes you find irrelevant trash that you have no idea how it ended up in the work in the first place. Chapters about nothing in particular. This step is tedious, boring, time consuming and all around awful.

The End

Somehow if you pull all of this shit together you will have a finished product, be it a story, a novel, a blog post, or even a fancy self-help instructional guide. Whatever. And this is what makes it all worth it I suppose. When you can feel good for sitting through some not-very-fun bullshit to actually create something. When you’ve suffered through all of the difficult and tedious shit long enough to have something to show to others and something that you can be proud of. It doesn’t even matter if what you’ve created is trash because at least you’ve created something. How many countless others have wanted to create something but never got around to doing so? How many people fail before they even start?

But Not the End

Oh yeah, even once you have a finished product on your hands you’re still not finished with the process yet. The more I’ve been writing the more I’ve realized about the other shitty demon involved with trying to be an author: self-promotion. I’m also terrible at it. The fact is even if you wrote a masterpiece no one will buy it or even know about it if you don’t promote yourself. This involves goofy terms like “networking” and “advertising” and “getting yourself out there” and a few other nebulous terms that I despise while not being able to think of them right this moment. Let’s not forget the bloggers’ “SEO” stuff too!

As a side rant I’ve seen this problem mostly with MLM-Facebookers trying to pedal their wraps, diet pills, CBD oils, etc. These people try to sell products to their friends and family first without realizing that they can’t limp by selling products only to them. It’s the same with being an author: even if you have five or ten friends/family that love your writings they cannot support you completely. You can’t be a successful artist if only those people are purchasing your products. You need to branch out and find other customers!

I also think this is antithetical the the stereotypical writer as well, at least for me it is: I’m a person that likes to stay inside my head and someone who has confidence issues. A classic introvert I am. I really do think my writing isn’t good enough for people to actually want to read and am constantly surprised when I hear positive feedback on it. Obviously I’m terrible at self-promotion. It always comes across as begging or cringy when I try to get new people to read my writings. It’s hard to do. I wish I could ignore the self-promotion aspect of writing but it seems to go hand in hand with it. You simply can’t git gud at writing where everyone magically loves you. You need to put yourself out there for people to find you in the first place.

As a general closing note here: writing generally takes a long time! It takes much longer than you’d expect it to take. Consider this blog post: it’s only about twelve paragraphs long so take a guess how long I worked on it? I wrote it in 20 or 30 minutes, and have been editing/proofreading it for about an hour and a half (!!!). I also need to add tags to it, make a banner for it, proofread it again and then post it. In total I’d say this post — which is a total low-effort “quick” post — took a total of two to three hours from start to finish. Writing kinda sucks.