Lesson 27: 5 things I learnt from Stephen King’s “On Writing”

The first book I ever finished, was not a Jacqueline Wilson book. My first was a Stephen King classic. Misery, to be exact. Should I have read Misery at such a young age? Probably not but hey, no one found out so I got away with it.

I got away with a lot.

misery1.jpg
Misery, 1990. Vimeo

Then one summer, spent being a boring adult, my cinnamon bun glazed fingers found a book on a bench. It was Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I started reading and sure enough was late to work. I learnt a heap.

So, here are just five things I learnt from Stephen King’s On Writing. 
1 Don’t wait for the muse

My God, how I wish I read this earlier on in life. Years wasted to “I just don’t feel like, like the inspiration, you know?” Stupid questions, that end with the upward inflection of an idiot.

muse.jpegAs a kid, I would write, come rain or shine, and a lot of my stories were worthy of being toilet paper. I saw that then and it never stood in my way. I would always get the stories out and much to my surprise, my brother would enjoy them. Your job is to write, and be consistent with it.

2 Write what you know

If you’re not an astrophysicist and you squish in a whole steaming pile of wiki-inspired research about astrophysics because you think it’ll make the story credible, then my friend, you’ll be left with a steaming pile of (ahem) crap.

astronaut.jpg I can’t remember the name of the book but I remember during university I read a steaming pile of crap about an accountant, that tries to kill his unfaithful wife and I’m pretty sure I learnt more about accountancy, than the story. So steer clear of the theatrics, a good story doesn’t need to be embellished with shiny excrement. Write. What. You. Know.

3 Read
“I’m a writer, working on a novel but I don’t really read, I have no time to read”.

Pardon? To me, hearing you say that, is like hearing, “I’m an astronaut but I have no time, or business, riding a rocket”.

reading.jpegReading gives you an indispensable arsenal of tools to write. You’ll learn what good and bad dialogue looks like, how to pace your work and develop your own style. It’ll look like a mosaic of all those you admire and that’s how writers become full fledged writers. So, read.

4 Stories pretty much make themselves

King has said that he rarely plots and for some reason, authors everywhere gasped. Plot isn’t everything, it’s the situation that creates the story. Great stories usually pop into your head, much like a very big chunk of snow and it starts rolling down a hill, gathering characters and all their luggage, gathering more snow, before it becomes this thing you’re unsure how to stop. That’s how good mysteries are born, when the author can’t even predict the end.

pennywise.jpg
Pennywise from the film, It, 2017. Flickr

When I write, I rarely know how it’s going to end and when I’ve tried to force a whole series of events on paper, aka plot, it turns into that grey slush you bring indoors. Not everyone works like this but for me, it works.

5 Write with the door closed

The story looks like gold, you want to tell everyone about it and you’ve just written the first chapter. What happens? You tell them and become debilitated from the growing pressure of delivering this gold. Instead of doing this, how about just doing your job: write the damn thing. You want your golden snowball to pick up speed and be everything you envisioned, well, write with the door closed. Your only job right now is to get it down.

Fancy reading the book yourself?
Click here: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Have you read this or do you have anything else to add?

Let me know snowballs.

Nahla.

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