On Writing – Stephen King (book review)
I can hardly call myself a fan of Stephen King. I read one of his books once and I wasn’t mightily impressed. I’m sure he’s a good writer, but his chosen genre just isn’t for me. If anyone call tell me which of his books aren’t gory or horror-y, I’d like to try them out. Anyway, I spotted this book on my uni library’s new books exhibition. I think it was mostly the cover that drew my attention (and the urge to procrastinate some research I had to do). So I started flipping through it and it looked really interesting. It is called a “memoir”, but King not only talks about his life, but also about writing. He talks about how he started writing, how he writes now and he gives some tips to write well.
I decided I really wanted to read this book, but I couldn’t have it because it was still on the library’s exhibition and they get a bit miffed if you want to decrease the amount of books they can display. So, I waited. And waited. And waited some more until the library finally stopped showing it off and put it one the normal shelves. I read it in three days during odd moments. It was that captivating.
In the first part of this book, King talks about his own life. He starts at his childhood (And what a crazy childhood! Seriously, if you want to read about insane childhoods, read this!) and works his way all the way up to the present. He also writes about how he wrote his first short story, about all the rejection slips he got and how he finally got published in a magazine.
In second part, he gives out some writing tips. He shows why he hates adverbs and proceeds to give some examples of other authors’ work that he finds good. He also shows copies of some of his own first drafts, with all the changes and crossings out, so that you can get some idea of how much gets changed in the revision process.
I think this is a great book, because King speaks about his life and writing so naturally (argh, an adverb!). He does use profanity, he is scatological, but it comes across so natural – it is so clearly just the way he talks normally – that it doesn’t distract. I consider myself pretty unshockable on the language front – I’m a language student after all, so I’ve seen it used in all extreme forms – but the all I have seen is often done so incompetently by authors who seem to be trying too hard to sound bad-ass. It is not so with King: he is in his natural environment.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m always interested in reading about an author’s journey to being published. Perhaps it is because I hope it will give me some clue as to what the heck I should do.
So, in terms of giving me what it promised (interesting biography, interesting commenting on writing, and useful tips) this book succeeded completely. I hereby rate it:
I recommend it to anyone who likes autobiographies or writing. Especially recommended if you like both!
I know that I picked up a few tips for my writing during NaNoWriMo (Yes, I have made my decision. I’m doing it this year. More below.), the most valuable of which was probably the question “Who do you write for?” Who is your ideal reader? You know this person well, right? So, write what you know they’ll love. You know what will make them laugh and what will make them continue reading. Put all these things in and then you will have their perfect book. When it’s of acceptable quality, show it to them. By their reaction, you will know what is good and what you need to change. In them, you will have the perfect soundboard and fan.
For King, this ideal reader is his wife, Tabitha. Well, I know who my ideal reader is. I think I’ve always known…
On Writing by Stephen King is a wonderful book and I wish I had a copy of my own.
I know I’ll regret it if I don’t participate. But the thing is, I don’t compete if I can’t win. (In it to win it! as we always say) I’m not going to enter knowing that I won’t finish anyway. I will finish it. I don’t give in. I did it under the same circumstances last year. But you see, last year I went into it blind. I made a split second decision just days before it started. Before I could second-guess myself, the madness had already started. Now, I know exactly what I am getting myself in for. I know the mental pain that NaNo causes. I know how bad week 3 is going to be (for most people week 2 is apparently the worst, but week 3 is my death). I know how hard it is going to be to study for final exams while writing 1667 words in an hour every day. I write exams right until the very end of November this year, so there is no reprieve for me.
On the other hand, I have some advantages that not all NaNo-ers have. I am extremely writing fit – I’ve written 750 words every day for more than 600 days in a row now. I can do those 750 words easily in 15 minutes – I can do it in 10 if I have to, but that means no capitalisation and lots of typos. I am also a language student, which not only means that I have the world’s finest literature in my mind, ready to draw upon for inspiration, but that I have developed awesome (not really) note-taking skills over three years of English and also basically my own shorthand. Those lecturers don’t hang around for you to figure out how to spell Houyhnhnm (hate that word).
Well, actually I just meant to say I can write very fast. 😛
So, there are my advantages to NaNoWriMo. But I haven’t mentioned the most important one yet: if it wasn’t for NaNo pushing me, I would never have had 1 and a half novels to my name. I need this extra motivation to start writing again… So, who’s joining me for this ultimate challenge?