I’ve never read any of Mr. King’s books before this one, but I sure wish I had. On Writing is a mix of memoir & inspiration & instruction with a lot of humor. I found myself cracking up in my bed at the funniest stories – mostly the one with the shit (you’ll have to read to find out).
I found some inspiration along the way:
“If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”
And a ton of practical advice; here’s a few just off the top of my head:
- “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
- Close the door when writing the first draft (the first draft is telling yourself the story), and open the door when writing the second draft.
- Descriptions shouldn’t stop the flow of the story.
- Listening to other people (how they speak, their accents, dialect, slang) is essential to writing good dialogue.
- “…The best stories always end up being about the people rather than the event, which is to say character-driven.”
- Etc. etc.
Mr. King demystifies writing and breaks it down to its barest bones. From reading this memoir, I can tell that Mr. King had worked incredibly hard to get to where he is at today, and this book wasn’t what I had expected it to be – a manual for the beginner writer to get better at writing, but as Mr. King said so wisely:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
Doesn’t it seem so obvious? There is no secret formula for writing; if there were, everyone could be writers. But not everyone can, which brings me to something Ira Glass said that was strangely uplifting to me. The general gist for me was you suck but it’s okay. I’ll leave this gigantic quote with you so you can decipher it for yourself:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s tyring to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work deson’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
– Ira Glass
This isn’t a typical book review, but then again, On Writing isn’t your average book.