Stephen King Says

by kalbzayn on March 6, 2007

I just finished the part of Stephen King’s On Writing. If you enjoy Stephen King at all, you simply must read this book.

Actually, if you like any particular author and they put out a nonfiction book, I would recommend reading it. How often do you really get to have a conversation with one of your heroes? I know there are some Ray Bradbury nonfiction books sitting on my shelf that I have to read.

Anyway, Stephen King does a decent job of making the book more of a conversation then a how to guide. There is very little information that will make you sit down and say, “Oh…I need to start adding more detail to my outline” or “Ah…I must keep myself under 5 adverbs per page.”

The book presents what works for Stephen King. They may not work for us but it sure felt nice to hear what he does. Here are some of the big things I took away from it.

First and foremost figure out what question you are writing about. King likes to ask what if questions. What if a a psycho dog traps a mom and kid in a car? That kind of question. King is not an outliner. He thinks up a what if and tries to write the story that naturally occurs from that question.

Get rid of adverbs. King is enough of an English major/English teacher to know to avoid adverbs at all costs, even if he still struggles to do it himself sometimes.

Lock yourself in a room for the first draft. Avoid talking about your story until the first draft is done. Don’t let others ask questions that might end up causing you to question the story. That’s what the second draft is for. Until you get the first draft done, the story is yours and yours alone.

Write the first draft quickly. Get the story down fast enough that you don’t lose momentum or interest or start second guessing.

Develop your critique group. King shows his stories to his wife and a select, small handful of friends. People he trusts to tell him the truth about what needs to be changed, where the big holes are, and what went right. He doesn’t think formal critique groups are of much value. He prefers the few people he has hand picked over the years that are willing to put up with him.

Put the story away for a while before showing your critique group. If you show the story to your critiquers as soon as you type The End, they will make suggestions and you will want to make changes before you have proper distance from the story. King prefers to wait about 6 weeks before showing it to others and looking at it himself. Long enough to where he has forgotten most of the fine details and can read it objectively.

It all sounds like very simple sane advice. The number one piece of advice that resonates throughout the book is if you want to wrte well, you need to write a lot to practice putting words together and you need to read a lot to learn what you like and don’t like in fiction.

Sit your little monkeys down in front of the keyboard and just write. Listen to what people tell you sucks. Make the changes as necessary. Hope somebody else wants to read it.

And turn off the TV. He does mention that several times throughout the book.


Paul March 6, 2007 at 11:14 am

Good post. I need to go back and re-read this book, though I think some of it stuck with me. One part of the book that stuck with me was to be a good writer, one needs to read a lot and write a lot.

The Harbour Master March 6, 2007 at 4:45 pm

I enjoyed On Writing as well. I don’t necessarily hold to all of his advice, but it was a pretty good read. I am wary, though, as he is, of getting too “writerly” and going on courses and the like.

Kelly Parra March 9, 2007 at 8:32 pm

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a long time. I’ve heard many of his tips shared. I like the one where he says the book is yours alone during the first draft and not to talk to anyone about it. People are always trying to help by suggesting things but sometimes it confuses you. :)

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