Friday, November 26, 2010

Writing Craft: A Review

A while back I said I'd post my review of Stephen King's memoir and craft help book On Writing. I'm going to quickly jot down a few of my thoughts on it now, while I've got half an hour before school drop off time (so if I don't make a lot of sense, I've had to go deal with a child related situation).

Five things I got out of this book:

1.  After close to two years of writer's block, to read the words "The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better" made me realise the main thing holding me back from finishing a book was fear. I was afraid it wouldn't be good, that the plot would tie me in knots and I'd lose patience with it, afraid I was wasting my time. I've started writing again, successfully, in the last couple of months and these are the words I always say to myself if I ever start vacillating and trying to put the task off.

2. "I won't convince you that I've never plotted any more than I'd try to convince you that I've never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible".  I'm not a rigid plottter. I need a general idea of where I'm going and a few scenes in my head to help get me there, but if I ever outline it's with the full knowledge that I'll deviate from that outline wildly. Stephen King legitimized my way of doing things, as far as I'm concerned.

3. A part of a writer's job it to READ. This seems simple enough, but it's easy when you have such limited writing time to get bogged down in guilt when you spend some of that time reading someone else's work instead of crafting your own. But the famous quote is true: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write." Reading is work for a writer--it is research. This has helped me enjoy my reading again, which in turn has helped me remember what I enjoy about writing (oh and I've all but given up TV so I can make my reading/writing a priority. I hardly miss it actually).

4. Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around." King was referring here to using his need for creative energy to excuse his alcohol and drug habit, but the lesson is apt for anyone who's caught in that trap of thinking the writing is the most important thing in their lives. It's not. Really. IT'S NOT THAT IMPORTANT. Your family, your REAL life is what's important. Writing can totally consume you and sometimes, when you're on a roll, that's a good thing. The rest of the time go be with your family. Keep it in perspective and stop beating yourself up for not being Tolstoy (or is that just me?)

5. "When you write a story, you're telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out the things that are not the story." In other words, allow that first draft to be nonesensical to anyone else but you. The first draft is for your eyes only anyway. Once you've told yourself the story--you can do this in a word doc., in a notebook or on 500 cocktail napkins, whatever works for you--you then know what you're trying to say to others. Then you can fill in the blanks and cut the crap. This is actually my favourite part of writing.

So those are the main points I got out of this book. I would recommend it to anyone who writes, who wants to write or who is simply interested in reading the life story of a very interesting person. I'd definitely recommend it it you've struggled with writing in recent times. It just might help.



  1. Hmmm...I like the part about the first draft is telling yourself the story. It makes my madness make sense, now. See! I'm not totally insane. My favourite part of writing is the rewriting because I don't have to think any more. The main story is right in front of me and all I'm doing is making it better. I feel better now! Thanks Sami

  2. I never thought you were insane... we crazies seem to stick together like that.