Tag Archives: On 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.

Substance-Free September Sucks: Books and Boredom

It’s time to write a blog post even though I don’t have anything in mind to write about. Hopefully as I write a topic will appear. Kinda like my month long streak experiment where somehow I was able to write something every day even if I didn’t think I had anything to say.

Substance-free September is going great, and I’m surprised how much my mood has improved. Apparently I don’t have anxiety issues when I’m not drinking, who would’ve thought? I shouldn’t say that though, anxiety is still around, It’s just manageable. Like I can feel tense or anxious about a situation but find myself acknowledging it and going along with it. “I’m very nervous and anxious but, oh well, there is nothing else to do but to face it head on.”

This is noticable in small ways. Take for example some paintings I bought from a garage sale last weekend. Garage sales are terrifying for me: social interaction with strangers, social protocol that I’m not aware of, it’s a big mess of shit that makes me uncomfortable. Yet I drove by a garage sale, saw a painting that looked interesting, pulled over, and contemplated if I was really going to go through with buying it. I was terrified and the coward in me wanted to find any reason to drove off, but I got out of the car, talked to the lady, and walked away with four pieces of art for $20.

I feel terrible for this. Writing about anxiety and how I turned into a big boy finally where I could buy something from a garage sale all by myself. But hey, I’m trying to be proud of little acts like this where I manage to get over my anxiety, even if it’s something as silly as buying art from a garage sale.

Reading and video games have been keeping me sane over the past two weeks. Boredom is one of the key triggers for my drinking (the others being stress and depression), so avoiding boredom is a huge part of Substance-Free September. To start, I purchased American Psycho and Lolita from Thriftbooks before the month began, ready to jump into reading in the evening to dissuade myself from drinking. One issue here: I’m a fast reader. I plowed through American Psycho within a week, and then turned to the third book in The Wheel of Time series to keep busy. Book three is whopping 770-page book (which I was halfway through) and I finished in a week and a half. Being a bit weary to jump into book five in TWoT series (1,000-pages…) what else could I read?

(Here’s a post I wrote about The Wheel of Time if you’re interested.)

American Psycho was a fucking trip, and one of those books that you finish and immediately think, “Wait…so what actually happened? Huh?” I think most people like ‘tidy’ endings to stories, but I love the random “What the fuck happened?” endings, and not just with books. Movies that end this way are usually some of my favorite films.

(Note on Thriftbooks: I used to buy all my books from Amazon until a coworker told me about Thriftbooks. They sell books (obviously) and you can get a wide selection of used books ranked by quality. This means you can snag books for literally a few dollars each and they even credit your purchases towards a free book after you spend a certain amount. There are two things I like about Thriftbooks: they’re not Amazon (Amazon is basically taking over the world so fuck them) and I love buying used books. Used books are amazing because 1.) you’re basically recycling books/they’re good for the trees 2.) they smell nice and have some ‘history’ to them 3.) they’re cheap meaning you can buy more 4.) I love physical books and can’t into ebooks and 5.) buying a used book that is terrible doesn’t give the author royalties. In short, Thriftbooks is amazing.)

I hopped on Thriftbooks today and purchased the next two books in The Wheel of Time series — books five and six out of thirteen! — as well as Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Journey and On Writing by Stephen King, both recommended by a certain reddit thread asking about amazing nonfiction books. Lolita still needs to be read as well as book 4 of TWoT. I should be able to keep plenty busy over the next few months and hopefully stay away from alcohol.

That was rambly enough and I’m not even drunk. What the hell? Anyways, I feel like leaving off on some grand lesson, something to note, and I don’t really have anything besides keep busy! I know any drug/alcohol abuser has their own certain triggers, and while I’m not representative of everyone, I should be representative of a good portion of alcoholics. A good percentage of people probably do drink out of sheer boredom and if this is the case it’s obvious for me to stress the importance of never letting yourself become bored enough to drink. Find a hobby and do something even if your heart isn’t into it. The past few weeks I’ve taken solace in reading, it’s relaxing, wastes a ton of time, and gets your mind and imagination working. I really don’t see anything bad about reading besides the time sink it is, but what else is there to do? Keep busy, do something, do anything, but do not get bored! Do not drink!

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.

Or my Facebook page where I don’t do much of anything at all, but I do appreciate more followers.